LONDON — All week the talk was about Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez not being good enough for Manchester United and that they may be left out of the starting lineup for the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley.
On Saturday at Wembley they dragged their team back into the contest and past Tottenham Hotspur to reach the FA Cup final.
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After a shaky start, Pogba’s powerful tackle on Mousa Dembele was followed up by a perfect cross to Sanchez who expertly headed home in, using every last muscle in his neck, to make it 1-1 in the 24th minute. United never looked back.
Pogba and Sanchez grew stronger as the game wore on and the latter bullied Kieran Trippier for United’s winner as the tireless Chilean speedster ran down a lost cause and helped set up Ander Herrera to score the winner.
The duo have been heavily criticized since the turn of the year with Pogba hauled out of the team by Mourinho, then having to deal with issues such as rumors about his United future following Pep Guardiola‘s claim that Man City were offered the Frenchman in January. While Sanchez has scored just twice in the Premier League since his January move from Arsenal which made him the best paid player in the Premier League and was left out of United’s lineup for the win at Bournemouth on Wednesday.
Mourinho had a message for his much-maligned stars after they stole the show at Wembley: he wants consistency.
“I told Alexis the same thing I told Paul a few weeks ago, I cannot expect my players to be Man of the Match every match. I cannot expect them to score goals every match. I cannot expect them to be perfect every match,” Mourinho said. “What I expect is a certain level that you don’t go below that. That level is the level of the basic things in the game. If you do the basic things of the game and then in some matches your talent appears and you makes the difference. That is fine. I am not waiting for Alexis the next match to score again and to be the Man of the Match. I just want him to be stable and I think in Alexis’ case next season gives him much better conditions to be a top player for us.”
Despite their gutsy and pivotal displays, both Pogba and Sanchez (the Man of the Match) still showed glimpses of their poor form with wasteful passes from Sanchez and slack defensive play, early on, from Pogba. Their confidence still remains brittle but at least they showed their talent when it mattered most.
But the main thing is that they dug deep to grind out the win and keep United’s hopes of a piece of silverware this season alive. That is what top players do and both delivered, even if Pogba’s United future remains uncertain beyond this season. This was a game where the duo showed Mourinho they could be trusted to dig deep and after they combined for United’s equalizer they grew in confidence and, most importantly, did the dirty work to help United reach the final.
Pogba and Sanchez aside, Mourinho was keen to ask why United have so many critics, even though they are on course to finish second in the Premier League this season and the fact that he has reached his third major final out of six tries since he arrived at the club in the summer of 2016.
“This season is successful if we finish second. If we do a better Premier League than Spurs, Liverpool Chelsea and Arsenal, if we do that I think it is successful,” Mourinho said. “To break the 80-point target to finish second against an untouchable winner is good. To make a lot more points than last season to win more matches, to score more goals, to concede less goals, to have much better results against the top teams I think is a successful teams.”