José Mourinho insisted that Marcos Rojo is “an aggressive but clean player” after the defender risked a red card by launching into another two-footed challenge during Manchester United’s 2-1 victory against Crystal Palace.
Rojo lunged at Wilfried Zaha during the first half at Selhurst Park, with the game still goalless, but was only booked by the referee, Craig Pawson.
The Argentina international had been guilty of a similar offence against Idrissa Gueye in the recent draw at Everton, earning a yellow card from Michael Oliver that night at Goodison Park. “From the sidelines, it did look bad,” said the Palace manager, Alan Pardew, of Rojo’s latest offence. “He jumps two-footed on [Zaha], and we’ve been to all these meetings where [we’re told] that’s a red card.”
José Mourinho refused to comment on the tackle itself but was quick to defend his player’s conduct.
“He’s playing really well, phenomenal,” said the Portuguese, whose side are now unbeaten in seven Premier League games and six points off the top four. “He’s a clean player, aggressive. His nature, Argentinian, is emotional but very clean, and he’s playing probably the best football of his career.
I didn’t comment on David Luiz’s tackle on José Mourinho Fellaini, or Danny Rose’s tackle on Henrikh Mkhitaryan. So I’m not going to comment on this one.”
Both teams had reason to bemoan oversights by the officials, with Pardew dismayed that the visitors’ opener in first-half stoppage time had been allowed to stand after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s apparent handball and with the scorer, Paul Pogba, in an offside position. Yet Joe Ledley’s handball might have earned United a penalty of their own after the interval before Ibrahimovic plundered the winner the visitors’ dominance merited.
Wayne Rooney had been substituted at 1-1 just after the penalty incident and took out his own frustrations on the fourth official, Stuart Attwell. “Wayne was angry about a possible penalty,” said Mourinho. “He was complaining with the referee on the pitch and the fourth official on the bench. He was really upset with it. But even at 1-1, I told him to forget it.
“We’ve achieved two big wins in a few days. Big because two victories is like six draws. If you win two in five matches and lose three, in terms of points it’s better than five draws. But the reality is I forget my draws and focus on my performances, and the performances have been good for a long time. The players deserve these two happinesses: happiness at home and happiness away.
Now comes West Bromwich Albion, very difficult, and then Sunderland and Middlesbrough, and Leicester who are a few points from relegation. Very difficult. But we are playing well.
“If we’d had the points we lost at home, or not drawn matches we’d done more than enough to win, we’d be close to the top of the league. But we lost those points and, now, we are just closing the gap to the top four. Three matches to play until the end of the year.
Let’s see how it ends on 31 December and we can feel then, and smell, what is possible to do in the second half of the season.”