LONDON (AP) — At Manchester United, you can criticize the team on Jose Mourinho’s terms.
“I think that some (players) care more than others (about the team’s slump),” the United manager said on Monday.
But players giving a glimpse of what it’s like at United right now run the risk of repercussions.
A public plea by Paul Pogba for the team to “attack, attack, attack” — invoking a fan chant after a draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers — was swiftly followed by the club’s most expensive player being stripped of the vice captaincy.
When asked to assess Pogba’s performance in Saturday’s 3-1 loss at West Ham, Mourinho, who was already standing and trying to exit the news conference, paused to think but opted to follow his press officer’s orders by leaving after taking only three questions.
Pogba also kept tight-lipped on the game itself while betraying just how easily Mourinho’s ire can be provoked.
“You want me dead?” Pogba asked reporters wanting his take on the collapse at the Olympic Stadium.
Luke Shaw didn’t share Pogba’s trepidation despite being a past target of Mourinho’s scorn.
“If you want the truth,” Shaw said. “It was honestly horrendous. We didn’t look like a team that was going to beat West Ham. Individually and as a team we were awful.”
The defender ensured his blunt assessment could not be overtly interpreted as criticism of Mourinho’s tactics after United slipped nine points behind league leaders Manchester City and Liverpool after seven games.
“We have to look at ourselves as players. We’re the ones who go on the pitch,” Shaw said. “The manager isn’t on the pitch, is he? He’s there to put a team out and put a team out that he thinks can win the game. You look at our team and we had a very strong team.”
But was it?
Midfielder Scott McTominay was deployed in a less familiar back three while Eric Bailly, a center back signed for about $40 million two years ago for Mourinho’s first season, was left on the bench. The selection gamble contributed to United being picked apart with ease by a West Ham side with only one win from its previous six league games. In self-preservation mode, Mourinho didn’t see it that way.
“Scott McTominay is a kid with a special character,” Mourinho said. “Very humble, aggressive in a positive way, brave.”
Mourinho gave the impression of excessively praising the inexperienced 21-year-old McTominay to tee up calling out other members of the team, which was also knocked out of the League Cup by second-tier club Derby last week.
“Do my other players have that mentality?” Mourinho said. “Not all of them.”
Midfielder Juan Mata figures it is best to remain fairly tight-lipped ahead of the Champions League resuming on Tuesday against Valencia after United won its group opener.
“It isn’t really a time for posts,” Mata wrote on his website, explaining the lack of a detailed weekly blog on Monday. “I want to thank all of you who support us during these tough times. I understand your frustrations.”
David Luiz falls in and out of favor at Chelsea, even being offloaded to Paris Saint-Germain in 2014 before being re-signed two years later.
Integral to the Premier League title win in 2017, the defender struggled for game time in Antonio Conte’s second season in charge at Chelsea. Now the Brazil international has an admirer again at Stamford Bridge since Maurizio Sarri replaced Conte in the offseason, helping the London club start the league by going seven games unbeaten.
“Two seasons ago he was a protagonist. Then six months ago he was not playing, so he was a little confused,” Sarri said.
“He’s direct. If he has to say something to the manager he has to talk to me. I like very much direct people. When I arrived here immediately I had the feeling he’s a very good player for my way of football because he’s a center back who is very technical. Then I appreciate his qualities as a man. He’s really better than I thought before.”
Tottenham’s injury list is growing just as it prepares to host Barcelona in the Champions League.
Midfielder Dele Alli has already been ruled out with a hamstring injury, playmaker Christian Eriksen has an abdomen problem, and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has an ongoing thigh problem.
Midfielder Mousa Dembele and defender Jan Vertonghen are also doubts with muscle strains sustained in Saturday’s victory at Huddersfield.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.