Jose Mourinho insisted he had once again substituted Paul Pogba for tactical reasons during Manchester United’s 1-0 defeat at Newcastle.
Pogba delivered another ineffective performance and was taken off midway through the second half, just moments after he had been beaten in the air in the build up to Matt Ritchie’s winning goal.
The French international had also been withdrawn early during United’s defeat Tottenham earlier this month and had been subjected to withering criticism from pundit Graeme Souness in his newspaper column on Sunday morning.
“Paul Pogba is capable of great things, but a country mile from being a great player,” Souness wrote. “He plays like a schoolboy running after the ball in the playground.”
Pogba appeared to be lacking the strength and stamina to get around the pitch at St James’ Park, and was seen to be limping early in the game.
But Mourinho insisted the midfielder was not injured, saying that he had replaced him with Michael Carrick in the 66th minute because he wanted someone to dictate the pace of the game in that position.
Asked whether Pogba had been injured, he replied: “No, no, no problem. I wanted a better way to come out in the first phase against a side that was defending in a very compact block.
“I was trying that with the simplicity of Michael Carrick, because he tries to make everything simple. And bring Alexis to an area close to Lukaku, where he could be like a second striker to try and win the game.
“I was unlucky because they scored a goal in the seconds before that and then I am going to face a different Newcastle, a Newcastle that, in that moment, was only going to think about how to defend. They defended like animals and I mean that as a compliment.”
Asked about criticism of Pogba specifically, Mourinho replied: “I don’t analyse players individually after a game. You will have to ask Graeme Souness about his comments, he is responsible for them, not me.”
Mourinho, however, was critical of the defending that led to Newcastle’s goal, which he must have known was at least partly Pogba’s fault.
“I’m not complaining about the free kick being awarded,” he explained. “But it is not even a free kick in a dangerous position, it is really far from our goal and the players were in position. But we missed the challenge in the air, there were two of my players stood on the floor when Lejuene jumped in the air.”
Benitez was less interested in the mistakes made by Manchester United’s defenders as he celebrated his first home win in the league since October.
“Hopefully it will not be my biggest win with Newcastle,” said Benitez. “Hopefully we will have bigger wins than this one, but it was a really great game against a very good team, a top side who everybody knows how good they are.
“The way that we were playing, with everybody giving everything, was absolutely fantastic. And to do it in front of our fans makes it even better.
“We have been so close in so many games, and it was a pity not to win those. Although, still we were a little but lucky at the end, I think the team deserved the three points.”