José Mourinho has denied his relationship with Paul Pogba has broken down and described speculation the midfielder may want to leave as “a lot of lies”.
Pogba received a barrage of criticism after his below-par performance at Newcastle last Sunday, with the former Manchester United player Paul Ince going so far as to suggest the France international believes he may have made a mistake in rejoining the club.
“You can call it speculation, I would call it a lot of lies,” Mourinho said. “Paul accepts he has not been playing well in the last few matches but that is all. It is a big lie that we don’t communicate, that we don’t agree about his best position and that we don’t have a good relationship.
“It is my problem that he is not playing well at the moment but he will play in the FA Cup against Huddersfield, and that is the end of the story. We don’t fight every day and we don’t want to sell.
“I don’t want to be nasty to the punditry industry in this country – it must be the biggest in the world and they are being paid millions – but it is ridiculous to talk about Paul being played out of position.
“Against Newcastle Paul played in midfield, we had a 6 [Nemanja Matic] and two 8s [Jesse Lingard and Pogba], with Paul on the left-hand side. If you ask Paul what is his preferred formation it is 4-3-3. If you ask him where he likes to play in that formation it is 8, on the left. That is exactly what he was doing against Newcastle.”
Pogba still managed to be outplayed by Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diamé at Newcastle, though Mourinho believes every player is entitled to a lapse in form every now and then, even if it impacts on the team’s performance.
“Paul had a big injury this season, he almost needed surgery,” the United manager said. “He was playing phenomenally before that, and in this moment he is not playing well. Period. The team needs him at a good level. To be at its best any team needs its top players to be performing.”
Mourinho may have Eric Bailly back at Huddersfield; Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera have been ruled out but could be fit for the Champions League game at Sevilla on Wednesday night.
With Chelsea at Old Trafford the following weekend this could be a crucial period in United’s season on three different fronts, though Mourinho is trying not to look too far ahead.
“Let’s go step by step,” he said. “The next one is the FA Cup, and that is black or white. By tomorrow evening [via extra time and penalties if necessary] we are either out of the FA Cup or in the quarter-final; it’s not grey. The Champions League is more difficult than the Europa League, we all know that, but even the FA Cup is going to be tough this year. I think only Arsenal and Liverpool are out, and Chelsea, Man City and Tottenham all have nice draws, so there are going to be some top teams in the last eight. We want to make sure we are there too. We are going to face the Huddersfield game in the best possible way.”