(Reuters) - Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho offered a robust defence of Paul Pogba on Friday after the midfielder was criticised in the British media for his failure to provide defensive cover.
Mourinho substituted United’s record signing in last month’s 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur after angrily gesturing at him from the touchline and dropped the Frenchman to the bench in favour of academy graduate Scott McTominay for last weekend’s win over Huddersfield Town.
That led to suggestions United were struggling to make best use of the Frenchman, with former Scotland midfielder Graeme Souness saying the 24 year-old lacked the concentration to operate in central midfield.
“I had a few laughing over the past week because I heard and watched, read a few things, and I’m not English but I think I understand English enough when you want to say box to box,” Mourinho a news conference on Friday.
“But with some comments from some important people in football I got a little confused.
“There is no confusion between me and Paul though. It’s difficult to play a midfielder with more potential than Paul. I don’t see a problem.”
Pogba was first out to train at Carrington on Friday and appears likely to be recalled for the visit to Newcastle United on Sunday.
“Paul had a very professional behaviour,” Mourinho said. “The week was not different to what Paul is every week. He works well, he’s a good professional. He likes to train. I’ve never had a single problem with him.”
Mourinho has not won in six Premier League games at St James’ Park across two stints as Chelsea manager, recording three draws and three defeats.
“I lost and I drew a few times, I hope the result is different but I know the characteristics of the game will not be difficult,” Mourinho said.
“They have a good team and I think they had a good transfer window, with Kenedy and (Islam) Slimani, two players I know very well, who can really improve the team.
“(Rafa) Benitez knows how to get points so I think it is going to be difficult.”
United are second in the table, 13 points behind leaders Manchester City.
Mourinho indicated full back Luke Shaw is set to sign a new long-term contract after the 22-year-old worked his way back into the first-team plans.
“He has been free of minor injuries for a few months which sometimes stops the evolution and I’m really happy,” Mourinho said.
“The natural consequence of it is that he will have his contract and he will be a United player for years.”
Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond