London (AFP) – Jose Mourinho said he was delighted to see Romelu Lukaku back on the scoresheet after a barren spell as Manchester United try to keep runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City in their sights.
Paul Pogba, returning after two months on the sidelines, was the driving force as United returned to form with a 4-1 Premier League thrashing of Newcastle at Old Trafford.
The Frenchman set up a goal and scored another before Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his long-awaited comeback from a knee injury as a late substitute.
But the gloss was provided by Lukaku, who lashed a ferocious shot into the roof of the net for United’s fourth. It was his first goal for the club since September after a barren run of seven games.
During that drought manager Mourinho had leaped to the Belgian’s defence in the face of frustration from fans, describing him as “untouchable in my team”.
“He is a striker and strikers like to score goals,” said Mourinho. “It is not a problem for me if he works like he always does and he doesn’t score goals but for their self-esteem, their confidence, strikers like to score goals.
“He was not doing that for us for a few matches and then all that can affect strikers’ confidence. I was really happy that he scored that goal.”
Lukaku’s effort capped a fine comeback from United that kept City’s lead at the top of the table to eight points after Newcastle scored first.
The result meant Mourinho came out victorious from his first meeting with old adversary Rafael Benitez in a decade.
“We didn’t start well but I don’t blame my players. I blame — in the positive sense — Benitez,” said the United boss.
“Very experienced, very intelligent — the team was very well-organised. They started very well, creating us problems and we couldn’t play at the same time they were creating those problems in our defensive areas.
“The goal was like a wake-up call and the team reacted very well. The second half was ours. We had control, we had goals, we had beautiful actions.”