Wednesday 18 July 2018

Mourinho plays down price tag as Pogba returns

Paul Pogba all alone with his thoughts during training with Manchester United yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Paul Pogba all alone with his thoughts during training with Manchester United yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Mark Critchley in Seville

Jose Mourinho attempted to take the pressure off Paul Pogba ahead of his expected Manchester United return by claiming that a huge price tag does not bring extra responsibility.

Even for a player so used to being in the spotlight, the France international may have squirmed at recent scrutiny about his form and happiness at Old Trafford.

Manchester United's Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester United's Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images

Mourinho last week admitted Pogba's form had dipped but angrily dismissed "lies" suggesting a fractured relationship with the midfielder, who would have started last Saturday's FA Cup win at Huddersfield but for illness.

The 24-year-old has recovered in time for tonight's match, but suggestions that this was the kind of stage on which the club-record signing should prove his worth did not sit well with his manager.

"I don't think it's fair to speak about the responsibilities of a player," Mourinho said. "I don't even like the fact that the player who cost X millions doesn't have the same responsibility as the player who cost three times X.

"I think the responsibility is for everyone, so I don't like that kind of approach. I understand for you (the media), but not for me.

Salary

"When I decide a team to play, I don't look to the age, I don't look to the salary, I don't look to the transfer fee, because I think that's not also fair."

On the surface, tonight's match is precisely what United appointed Mourinho for - a Champions League knockout phase away leg against opponents with a formidable reputation, in a stadium known for its intimidating atmosphere, where game management will be paramount.

United supporters have not had something significant to cheer about in this competition since Patrice Evra's emphatic strike cannoned off the underside of the crossbar at the Allianz Arena four years back.

David Moyes' side were 33 minutes away from a place in the last four then. They conceded 72 seconds later.

Moyes would be dismissed within a fortnight and his successor fared no better in his own single Champions League campaign with United.

Louis van Gaal made a habit of asphyxiating football matches until the last sliver of life dripped out of them, but it failed him away to Wolfsburg in the 2015-'16 group stages, when it was arguably needed most. United twice had qualification within their grasp yet twice threw it away. Nick Powell's introduction as a third and final substitute could not prevent an early exit.

It would be a surprise if a Mourinho team allowed such slip-ups. Despite all the criticism his style attracts, there are few coaches currently working in the game better at protecting a lead and perhaps none relish the particularities of a two-legged European tie more.

Yet this match-up should be no close-run thing. It should end in an impressive win, not merely a 'useful result'.

Even after the pitiful resistance put up by Porto and Basel last week, there is a case to say that it is United - not Liverpool or Manchester City - who find themselves against the last-16's weakest side.

Though fifth in La Liga, Sevilla have lost nine of their 24 league matches. At the start of the month, they went down 5-1 in Eibar. Last month, mid-table Real Betis beat them 5-3 in their own backyard.

Sitting six points off fourth-placed Real Madrid, who have a game in hand, few Sevillistas expect their club to grace the Champions League again next year.

English observers will point to Sevilla's two comeback draws against Liverpool.

Both the 2-2 at Anfield and the remarkable 3-3 in Spain were creditable results but, on the balance of play, Jurgen Klopp's side should have won both games.

The surprisingly heavy defeat at the hands of a distinctly average Spartak Moscow was more indicative of their inconsistent season so far.

Under Eduardo Berizzo, Sevilla scraped through Group E without even reaching a double-figure points total.

Their total of nine was the lowest of any last-16 qualifier despite having one of the kinder group draws. Berizzo was dismissed in December, with Vincenzo Montella named as his replacement and results have steadied slightly - there is a Copa del Rey final to look forward to in April.

All told, though, this is a team that United should easily overcome. There is no need for a textbook away leg performance.

The question is whether the United manager will break with habit and go for the kill.

He has just one first-leg away win in the latter stages of this competition to his name - Real Madrid's 3-0 victory over the might of Cyprus' Apoel Nicosia in the 2011-'12 quarter-finals.

His other 10 first-leg Champions League away matches have ended in six draws and four defeats.

It is a record that does not match Mourinho's reputation. This tie - against a inconsistent team that has had plenty of problems this season - provides the perfect opportunity to improve it. (© Independent News Service)

  • Sevilla v Manchester United, Live, RTé2/BT Sport 2, 7.45

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