MOURINHO BLASTS UNITED PLAYERS IN VICTORY: SAYS SQUAD NEED TO GET SERIOUS AND MORE PROFFESIONAL DESPITE 3-0 WIN
Jose Mourinho rebuked his Manchester United players for a lack of professionalism on Thursday night.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s hat-trick has put United firmly in the driving seat against Saint-Etienne but Mourinho was seething by dressing room sideshows.
‘I’m not happy with it,’ Mourinho said. ‘I had the feeling immediately in the dressing room. Too noisy, too funny, too relaxed and my staff had the feeling in the warm up.
‘Some of the guys weren’t really focused. The first thing was a backpass [by Eric Bailly] to the striker.’
Rio Ferdinand was recently very critical of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard’s antics after videos posted online and Mourinho is clearly of the same mind.
Pogba going up against his older brother, Florentin, appeared to represent a distraction in the build-up. United’s boss gave his team a severe rollicking when one goal up at half-time.
He believes his side can produce big performances when needed but craves relentless ruthlessness.
‘It was down to a lack of concentration,’ the Portuguese added. ‘When you don’t have it, it’s difficult to recover it.
‘It was hard. Even the communication on the touchline was difficult. In the first half we played so badly. When we need to win, we do it.’
On the night though, It was deja vu, as the French might say. Saint-Etienne should have known what to expect from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and it has almost certainly cost them a place in the last 16 of the Europa League.
The Swedish star scored 14 goals in 13 games against them during his time in France with Paris Saint-Germain. At Old Trafford on Thursday night, a first hat-trick in the colours of Manchester United, albeit rather scruffy, effectively ended what was turning into an awkward tie for Jose Mourinho’s side.
The build-up to it had been dominated by the sibling rivalry between Paul Pogba and his older brother Florentin. They embraced in the tunnel beforehand and walked out together while their mother Yeo settled into a private box wearing a half-and-half shirt to emphasise her divided loyalties.
But even on occasions like these, Ibrahimovic commands centre stage. The 35-year-old has now scored more goals against Saint-Etienne than any other club in his much-travelled career.
‘Every time I play against them, with luck it’s brought me a couple of goals,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘That’s how it is. It’s not something I focus on, I scored goals again.
‘Hopefully I can do something again next week and we can go further in the Europa League.’
You wouldn’t bet against it after victory here was sealed by the 17th hat-trick of Ibrahimovic’s career. Three of them have come against St-Etienne.
Mourinho can only hope he takes up the offer of extending his contract to stay around next season.
This was Saint-Etienne’s first defeat in 11 European games this season and they were still very much in the tie until their old nemesis struck twice in the final quarter of an hour.
The first goal had arrived in the 15th minute after a shaky start by United and owed much to Ibrahimovic’s knowhow as he convinced referee Pavel Kralovec that he had been fouled by Jordan Veretout, throwing himself theatrically to the ground when in fact there had been little contact between the two.
The Swede took the free-kick himself and opted to drive the ball low through the wall from 20 yards. It rattled between the ankles of Vincent Pajot like a pinball and sent goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier the wrong way, trickling agonisingly over the line as if in slow motion as Loic Perrin gave pursuit and Ibrahimovic stood with his arms aloft in celebration.
United had to wait until 15 minutes from time for the second when substitute Marcus Rashford accelerated away down the left and crossed into the penalty area. Ruffier made a rare mistake my pushing it out to the edge of the six-yard box, and Ibrahimovic had the simple task of tapping into an empty net.
And Saint-Etienne’s hopes were effectively killed off in the 88th minute when Ibrahimovic fired his third from the spot after he was bundled over by Kevin Theophile-Catherine, bringing another generous decision from the referee.
Saint-Etienne had reason to feel aggrieved about it after they were denied a penalty in the first half for Daley Blind’s challenge on Jorge Intima.
Certainly, the French side do not deserve to be three down going into the second leg. They played with purpose from the start and posed a significant threat, particularly through Romain Hamouma on the left flank.
Twice in the opening three minutes, Eric Bailly had to be bailed out by his team-mates after needlessly giving the ball away.
Pogba, the one in red, was beginning to exert a growing influence on the game and it was his weighted pass into Juan Mata that so nearly led to a second, the Spaniard swivelling to unleash a volley that was beaten away by a fine save.
But Saint-Etienne served warning that they were still dangerous on the break when Henri Saivet lifted a shot inches wide.
United’s response was instant, Ibrahimovic somehow hooking the ball over after Ruffier had stuck out his left foot to block Martial’s low effort. But it was Saint-Etienne who ended the half on the front foot, Bailly making a superb block to deny Hamouma and Romero snatching the ball off the toe of Pajot.
Mourinho let his players know what he thought of their performance at half-time and sent on Jesse Lingard in place of Marouane Fellaini, no doubt hoping that his pace would stretch his opponents.
Ibrahimovic thought he had added a second of the night when he headed in from Mata’s cross four minutes after the restart but quickly realised that he had strayed several yards offside.
Ruffier denied Martial the goal his performance deserved with another great save at his near post after the winger had once again broken through the Saint-Etienne ranks.
And Pogba twice was inches away from scoring when he turned Veretout to curl a shot just wide and then headed Blind’s free-kick against the bar from close range.
Nolan Roux gave United a scare when he lifted the ball on to the roof of the net with only Romero to beat. But Ibrahimovic punished the French side with his two late goals to effectively put the tie beyond them.
It wasn’t as if they hadn’t been warned.