United face Benfica in the Uefa Champions League in Tuesday knowing victory will guarantee their progress to the last 16
Romelu Lukaku 'untouchable' as Jose Mourinho leaps to Manchester United striker's defence
Jose Mourinho has declared Romelu Lukaku “untouchable” in a staunch defence of the striker as he called for the Manchester United support to give the summer signing more respect.
Lukaku scored 11 goals in his first 10 games after his £75 million (Dh363m) move from Everton but has failed to find the net in his last five appearances.
The Belgian met with a decidedly mixed reaction from some fans at Old Trafford during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur, though he set up Anthony Martial’s decisive goal.
But Mourinho argued he should be exempt from criticism, stating: “My job is to protect my players and Romelu is one of the players who should be untouchable in terms of respect from everyone.
“It’s not one ball or goal that hits the post or one save from the opposition goalkeeper that can make Romelu’s contribution below the top level.
“He is playing well and I have to protect my players and Romelu always deserves that because what he does for the team is fantastic and to play football for a striker.
“He's playing extremely well for us. So for me untouchable in my team and also untouchable in the respect and support he deserves from the fans. But the supporters pay for their tickets so [they can say what they want].”
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Mourinho also denied Lukaku has been quiet of late, adding: “I don’t think he’s quiet at all. Ask [Tottenham defenders] Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld or Eric Dier if he was quiet, and they are some of the best central defenders in football.
“The point is scoring goals or not scoring goals, so in the end sometimes that is all people analyse. But he’s not quiet at all.”
Mourinho has tended to alternate between Martial and Marcus Rashford but believes two quick forwards are not incompatible.
He explained: “We played Martial and Rashford together one week ago [against Swansea] so they can play together. What you can’t do is play with 12.”
Defender Eric Bailly also offered Lukaku his support, saying: “Romelu is an excellent player, I have played against him but now I’m fortunate to play in the same team. Everyone knows what Romelu is, he’s scoring goals, and the most important thing is that he carries on doing his job like a good centre forward.”
Mourinho has indicated that Lukaku will keep his place for the Uefa Champions League group match against Benfica as he said he would not rest players ahead of Sunday’s clash with Chelsea.
“Nobody here is thinking about Chelsea,” he said. “Nobody here thinks about a match other than Benfica.”
United will again be without the injured group of Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Victory could book their place in the last 16 and Mourinho added: “Ten points would be OK to qualify, but our main aim is to qualify first in the group.”
United beat Benfica 1-0 earlier this month and while Mourinho’s former club are yet to take a point in the pool, the Portuguese argued they represent the stiffest opposition.
“The players felt it was easy to win against CSKA [Moscow] and Basel but felt it was difficult against Benfica,” he said.
“Benfica are much better than the others. Benfica will give us a difficult match. They have their own ambition and pride.”
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