Friday 19 October 2018

Pogba finds positive response to Mourinho's criticisms

Bournemouth 0 Manchester Utd 2

Chris Smalling opens the scoring for Manchester United against Bournemouth last night Photo: Reuters
Chris Smalling opens the scoring for Manchester United against Bournemouth last night Photo: Reuters

Jason Burt

He was again substituted. He was booed off. He even appeared set to go straight down the tunnel before checking back, but this was more like the Paul Pogba Manchester United invested so heavily in as he drove them forward to defeat Bournemouth.

Jose Mourinho had demanded a reaction and he got it. The manager made wholesale changes but, tellingly, he retained Pogba with a clear message that he had to perform. He eventually did.

Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United scores his sides second goal past Nathan Ake of AFC Bournemouth Photo: Getty
Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United scores his sides second goal past Nathan Ake of AFC Bournemouth Photo: Getty

Whether Pogba is at United next season remains to be seen. Impressing in this kind of environment with Bournemouth affording Pogba space as they tried to entertain is one thing. A truer test comes on Saturday in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley against Tottenham Hotspur.

The midfielder was taken off once the game was won and was booed by home fans, who had accused him of diving, and attempted to disappear before being directed to take a place on the bench. Was there something in that?

Mourinho had promised to wield the axe after the dismal, lacklustre defeat at home to West Brom last Sunday which left the bitter after-taste of confirming Manchester City as Premier League champions and he did just that. Seven changes in all and, if Mourinho was good to his word, with that came opportunities to stake a claim for a place for the semi-final.

It meant that, on a balmy evening, in from the cold came the likes of Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian, while Anthony Martial also started. It is difficult to envisage any of that trio still being at United next season and it felt like not so much putting some of them in the shop window as picking them out of the remainders bin for one last time.

Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United celebrates with teammates after scoring his sides second goal Photo: Getty
Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United celebrates with teammates after scoring his sides second goal Photo: Getty

Delivered

It was a defender who delivered United the lead, albeit after another lacklustre opening half-hour. Bournemouth felt aggrieved. The goal eventually came after Marcus Rashford, playing as a central striker and impressing, had stolen possession away from Nathan Ake by the touchline, with the centre-half believing he had been fouled.

Rashford was allowed to play on and drew a smart save from Asmir Begovic, who conceded a corner. The set-piece was not properly cleared, as Pogba combined with Jesse Lingard, who then turned the ball back to Ander Herrera, who slid a superb pass through to pick out Lingard's run.

He then centred low across the six-yard area, with Chris Smalling sliding in to turn the ball home from close range. Had the cross gone forward and left Smalling offside? Marginally, no.

And so it was the third successive away game in which he had scored. Mourinho sat expressionless on the bench as his team celebrated.

Until then, Bournemouth sensed their opponents' vulnerability and Callum Wilson used his speed to pull away from Phil Jones before Jordon Ibe dragged his shot wide following the striker's lay-off.

For Bournemouth, and despite the protestations of manager Eddie Howe, their Premier League status already appeared secure with 38 points going into this fixture and it allowed them to play expansively. The next opportunity fell to Ryan Fraser, who broke into the penalty area, only for his cross-cum-shot to be deflected for a corner.

Pogba had been involved in the goal and the focus on him was even greater after Paul Scholes, in his role as a TV pundit, had teed things up by claiming he could envisage the midfielder leaving United this summer.

It was patchy from Pogba again but, although the goal settled United on half-time, it was Bournemouth threatening as Ake won a header, then another and barrelled through a Shaw challenge to allow Wilson to fire a powerful shot that David de Gea - captain for the night - beat out before falling backwards.

Pogba began to break with more purpose from midfield and he picked out Rashford, after a strong run, only for Martial's poor first touch to spurn a good chance early in the second half.

But his decision-making, with Mourinho having complained about too many aimless "flicks and tricks" against West Brom, remained questionable as he attempted a needless back-heel and then miscued a cross straight at Begovic.

Just as Bournemouth appeared to be overwhelmed they sped forward, with Joshua King running down the left and crossing for Wilson, who claimed he was held by Shaw as he attempted to reach the ball.

Referee Graham Scott was unmoved by the penalty appeal and Bournemouth again felt aggrieved and probably with more justification than with the Ake incident.

Whether it was a penalty or not, it fired up the home side, with Jones blocking Wilson's shot and Mourinho making changes.

Right on the lip of the area Pogba won a free-kick after dramatically throwing himself to the turf as Andrew Surman challenged him. The shouts of "cheat" rang around before substitute Romelu Lukaku slammed the ball into the wall.

The striker was soon slamming, or rather guiding, it into the net, with Pogba powering through from his own half, eating up the yards and slipping a pass through to Lukaku who, stealing ahead of Ake, deftly clipped his shot beyond Begovic. Game over. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport