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Jose Mourinho is under pressure to get the best out of his two highest-paid players, Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba, ahead of Manchester United’s crucial top-four clash with Liverpool.
Mourinho admitted the dramatic win over Crystal Palace failed to disguise the on-going problems of finding a system that works for both Sanchez and Pogba, whose egos appear to match their exorbitant wage packets while their performances do not.
They were United’s two worst performers in a mistake-ridden first half at Selhurst Park that prompted Mourinho to launch into a half-time rant at his players.
Sanchez lost possession a staggering 34 times in the game – 19 in the first half alone – while Pogba produced another erratic performance, prompting a wave of criticism from both fans and former players.
United claimed a great transfer coup when they snatched Sanchez from under the noses of neighbours City in the January window but on the evidence so far Pep Guardiola has had a lucky escape.
The former Arsenal striker has scored only once in eight games – and that a rebound after his penalty was saved – but the main problem has been his alarmingly sloppy distribution and his predilection to drop too deep to pick up the ball and cramp midfielder Pogba’s style.
Former United star Gary Neville said: “Mourinho has tried Sanchez everywhere else and it hasn’t really worked. He has to get him out of the centre of midfield. He has got to somehow try to play him into form. The problem now is working out the best way to do that.
“He was poor against Palace. He was trying to play one-twos from 40 yards from goal. He is no good from there.
“I see Sanchez as being at his best in the left channel, attacking defenders, committing them, playing one-two combinations in and around the penalty area.”
As for Pogba, Neville said: “His great strength is that he plays with freedom and like he’s playing on the park with his mates, but it’s like everything he does is like a YouTube or an Instagram video. It’s like it’s not serious. It’s like a joke to him in terms of the way in which he goes about things. It’s no wonder Mourinho has left him out in the last few weeks a number of times.”
Pogba and Sanchez appeared to vent their frustrations at each other at times prompting former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher to observe: “It’s like Sanchez and Pogba are two kids in the schoolyard – ‘We’re the best players, we’ll go wherever we want’.”
Another former Manchester United player, Danny Higginbotham, claims they are simpoly getting in each other’s way.
“If you’ve got Pogba playing on the left side of the midfield three, the amount of times at Palace that Sanchez was looking to drop into that position – that’s where Pogba wants to get into,” he said. “At times they were getting in each other’s way.
“Palace did really well in the first half and Pogba was getting frustrated. And when the top players get frustrated they want more of the ball, so their way of getting more of the ball is coming closer to the ball. So what you had in the first half was Pogba, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic all in the same line.
“What you want from Pogba, when you are playing him in a 4-3-3, is a midfielder breaking through, and then you are asking questions of the opposition.”
Defender Chris Smalling admitted United were “bad” in the first half at Crystal Palace but praised their character for coming back to clinch a dramatic late win that keeps them two points in front of Liverpool before Saturday’s “best of the rest” clash at Old Trafford.
“It shows that no matter how bad we might be playing in that first half, that we can go after teams,” he said. “We showed a lot of character.”