BOURNEMOUTH – Manchester United gave the perfect response to Jose Mourinho’s withering criticism as they got back on track with a 2-0 win against Bournemouth on Wednesday.
Goals from Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku sealed the points at Dean Court after Mourinho made seven changes in the aftermath of United’s shock defeat to struggling West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
That limp surrender had gifted the Premier League title to Manchester City, prompting Mourinho to accuse his players of complacency.
The United manager followed through on his threat to drop his under-performing stars, with Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata among the big names left out of the starting line-up ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham.
Paul Pogba kept his place despite mounting speculation Mourinho is ready to sell the out-of-form France midfielder in the close-season.
Mourinho’s hard-line stance appeared to sting his players into action as Smalling opened the scoring in the first half.
Lukaku came off the bench to seal the points in the closing stages as United consolidated second place in the Premier League.
Mourinho’s side are 14 points clear of fifth-placed Chelsea, and will be guaranteed to qualify for the Champions League if the Blues fail to beat Burnley on Thursday.
Ready for Wembley 👊 pic.twitter.com/uO4o7HomWT
Pogba was widely criticised for his lacklustre display against Albion – the latest in a long line of disappointing efforts from the former Juventus star since his move to United two seasons ago.
That sparked talk that Mourinho has told United to put Pogba up for sale, just days after Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said he had been offered the chance to sign the midfielder by his agent in January.
It could actually be bad news for Pogba that he featured against Bournemouth, as Mourinho hinted he had opted to rest some of the players he feels are essential to beat Tottenham at Wembley.
“Is the team selection looking back at the weekend or ahead to the semi-final? A bit of both,” Mourinho said before kickoff.
“I would say, for example, that Matic is looking for Saturday. But not every player that is out of the team is for the same reason.”
Smalling put United ahead in the 28th minute when he tapped in from Jesse Lingard’s cross despite Bournemouth appeals for offside.
Having survived two Bournemouth penalty appeals, United doubled their lead in the 70th minute.
Pogba was slightly more effective after his recent troubles, and he created United’s second goal.
Breaking up a Bournemouth attack, he galloped clear and picked out Lukaku’s run with a perfectly-weighted pass.
Lukaku capped the raid by slotting past Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to claim his 27th goal of the season.
That clinched United’s sixth win in their last seven league games, but all eyes remained on Pogba.
He was substituted soon after and initially headed straight down the tunnel, but was directed to the bench, where he took a seat on the back row like a naughty child at school.