Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has explained his decision to withdraw Paul Pogba during Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United and appeared to suggest his player was at fault for the goal conceded.
Pogba played 66 minutes of the game at St. James' Park and was taken off not long after he failed to jump for a challenge inside the box, although Mourinho confirmed his withdrawal wasn't due to injury.
The France international appeared to tweak something in the warm-up, but Mourinho made no excuses for his midfielder, per Sky Sports: "No problems. I wanted a better way to come out in the first phase against a team that was defending in a very compact block."
Football writer Tom Williams suggested it may have been preferable for supporters to hear his substitution was due to a genuine setback:
Tom Williams @tomwfootball
Mourinho says there was nothing wrong with Pogba. Which is probably more worrying than if there had been something wrong with him.2018-2-11 16:19:27
Newcastle centre-back Florian Lejeune was unopposed for a header inside the United box from a Jonjo Shelvey free-kick, knocking down for Dwight Gayle to tee up Matt Ritchie's deciding goal in the north-east.
And Mourinho appeared to suggest there was some blame apportioned to Pogba for his part in the matter, albeit while attempting not to name and shame the club's record signing:
"We train, we work, we organise...and the players have their individual jobs when they defend zonal. The players know there are responsibilities, but I am pretty sure you already watch that goal on TV a few times, I didn't.
"So you know more than me and you know who lost the challenge in the air, you know clearly that so I think it is bad if you put me in a position where I have to criticise a player. By yourself you make your own analysis."
While it's true Pogba has disappointed somewhat in attempting to reach the levels displayed during his stay at Juventus, Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News noted Mourinho's role in the Magpies defeat:
Samuel Luckhurst @samuelluckhurst
So Mourinho plays the same side which lost at Tottenham and United lose again. Had some great chances but they were hardly a reflection of dominance. Mourinho weirdly tolerating mediocrity in that squad. #mufc2018-2-11 16:15:58
"Paul Pogba is capable of great things but a country mile from being a great player.
"That distinction is due to his inability to grasp the responsibility that comes with being a central midfielder.
"He is 24 now and an £89 million signing, yet he still doesn't understand what is required to play that position properly. He plays like a schoolboy running after the ball in the playground."
Blogger Liam Canning agreed Mourinho deserved to be dealt some of the blame for Pogba's lack of production since rejoining the club in 2016:
Liam Canning @LiamPaulCanning
José Mourinho’s not blameless, either. The fact he rarely sets up with a three-man midfield, knowing that is where Pogba performs best, is odd. And how he keeps using Chris Smalling when he can see what a total liability he is. Not good enough.2018-2-11 16:14:05
While the midfielder's overall quality may be heavily dictated by where his manager chooses to field him, something as precise as defending a free-kick—in this case challenging to clear lines—is an individual action a manager expects to be performed.
One can understand the United manager's fury after not getting what's desired from his player, although there is cause to determine the real problems at Old Trafford lie far deeper.