Mourinho rushes to defence of ‘untouchable’ Lukaku
Man United can secure place in last-16 against Benfica
José Mourinho: “What Romelu does for the team is fantastic.” Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
After the 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on Saturday, Mourinho expressed disappointment that Lukaku had not been given vociferous support. The centre-forward created Anthony Martial’s 81st-minute winner and Mourinho also pointed to how the Belgian presented difficulty for Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
“The fans are the fans and I also told [on Saturday] that the fans pay for their tickets and are free to express themselves the way they want to express,” Mourinho said. “But my job, when I feel they deserve it, is to protect my players. Romelu is one of the players that should be untouchable in terms of the respect of everyone.
“It’s not one goal or the ball goes against the post or a save by the opposition keeper that can make Romelu’s contribution below the top level. He is playing extremely well for us and, yes, I have to protect my players when I feel they deserve it. And Romelu always deserves it because what he does for the team is fantastic. Playing football for a striker isn’t just about scoring goals. So for me [he is] untouchable in my team and I think he should be untouchable in support from the fans. But fans are fans, they pay the ticket and do what they want. As a manager I feel duty to protect my players.
“Ask Vertonghen and Alderweireld if he was quiet, and they are some of the best centre-backs in football. I don’t think he’s quiet at all. The point is scoring or not scoring, because in the end that is what people analyse sometimes.”
Such sentiments were echoed by Lukaku’s team-mate, Eric Bailly, who is pleased to be playing alongside the striker having faced him when Lukaku was at Everton.
“I think, like many people, that Romelu is a great forward,” the United defender said. “I’ve played against him and now have the fortune to be playing with him. “He is very important for us. Everybody can see everything is going well for him, and I hope he can continue this scoring run and helping the team as he has been doing.”
Bailly returned from injury on Saturday and could feature against Benfica tonight in the fourth Group A match tonight as leaders with maximum points. If United win they are guaranteed qualification for the knockout stage. They go to Chelsea on Sunday in the Premier League but Mourinho said: “Nobody here thinks about another match than Benfica. Nobody here thinks about Chelsea.”
Benfica have lost all three Group A matches to date but Mourinho is expecting a tough evening, having edged past them 1-0 after a goalkeeping mistake in Portugal a fortnight ago.
“Our aim tomorrow is basically to qualify,” he said. “Ten points would be okay for qualifying but our main aim is to finish first in the group. We know the statistics are what they are, but Basel has had good results against CSKA and Benfica. A draw is not bad but Benfica will give us a difficult match.
“They have their own ambition and pride, and they will try to win but we want to get to the last 16 as first in the group.”
- Guardian service