Pogba gets chance to prove his worth ahead of Liverpool showdown
For Paul Pogba, it is, in effect, a 90-minute audition ahead of Sunday's trip to Anfield and, to judge by Jose Mourinho's remarks last night, the Manchester United manager will be treating it as such.
Having been relegated to the bench for three of United's past four matches, Pogba will be restored to the starting line-up against Valencia in the Champions League tonight with an instruction from Mourinho to prove his worth before Liverpool.
There may not be much riding on the game, with Valencia's embattled coach, Marcelino, already admitting he is prioritising Saturday's game at Eibar and Mourinho acknowledging this is an opportunity to put some miles in the legs of his fringe players with only an outside chance of topping Group H, but it is no gentle run-out for Pogba, or at least his manager does not expect him to treat it as one.
"I'm looking for him to play well and have a good impact in the game," Mourinho said.
Mourinho has spent recent weeks insinuating that Pogba's attitude and tactical discipline have become problems and he bristled when asked why he had been unable to get the best out of the France midfielder.
"I don't think your question goes into the direction of what I want to answer or listen to - I don't like your question," he said.
Juan Mata acknowledged that Pogba was not going through the best of times but expressed confidence his team-mate would turn things around.
"We all have better and worse moments in our careers and season," the Spain midfielder said. "Hopefully I can do something from my side to support him.
"Paul is looking forward to playing and giving his best for the team, and trying to perform at his best because we all know that when he does that he is a fantastic midfielder."
United will have to win against Valencia, who are steadily improving after an atrocious start to the season but remain 15th in La Liga, and Juventus lose in Bern to whipping boys Young Boys for Mourinho's side to enter the round of 16 draw as Group H winners.
David De Gea and Nemanja Matic have been rested and Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Diogo Dalot, Matteo Darmian, Victor Lindelof, Alexis Sanchez are injured, which has led Mourinho to include youngsters James Garner and Mason Greenwood among the travelling party.
While uncertainty continues to blight Pogba's future, Mourinho's agent Jorge Mendes attempted to quell that surrounding his own client by releasing a statement on Friday insisting United were "very happy" with the manager.
But in a strange turn of events, Mourinho distanced himself from the statement last night.
"Which statement? No. I've nothing to do with the statement, it is just statement, is not my statement," he said. "No, I didn't know at all and I don't care about it."
Mourinho does care about Pogba delivering tonight, though. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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