Jose Mourinho has been as impressed by Anthony Martial’s attitude as the Manchester United forward’s upturn in performances.
An outstanding first season was followed by a frustrating second campaign, with the Portuguese making his frustrations with the 21-year-old clear both behind the scenes and in public.
Martial has returned for the new season with a fresh approach and appears to be reaping rewards, continuing his fine form by netting in a man-of-the-match display in Wednesday’s 4-1 Carabao Cup win over Burton.
“I see a great improvement in the person, in the mood, in the face, in the body language - if you want just a word, in the happiness,” Mourinho said of Martial.
“He’s a happy guy, he’s working extremely well. He starts matches, he tries to do well. He goes from the bench, even it is for 10 minutes like in the last match at home, he tries to enjoy and tries to give something in these extra minutes.
“I am very pleased with his attitude overall, and then it’s easier to play well.”
Martial and Marcus Rashford, who scored a brace against Burton, are vying for a starting berth today at Southampton, where Nemanja Matic, Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly and David De Gea are set to return having been rested in the cup.
Romelu Lukaku is another set to come in having been an unused substitute in the middle of a week when supporters’ controversial chant about the United striker made ripples.
The Belgium international appealed for fans to move on from the song that references the size of his penis, and Mourinho clammed up when the subject was broached on Friday.
“Don’t ask me these questions,” the United manager said.
“I want the fans to support the football club and to support the players. That’s what I want.”
Mourinho was not much more forthcoming when the severity of Paul Pogba’s hamstring complaint was brought up.
The midfielder this week had more assessments on the injury sustained in the Champions League opener against Basel on September 12.
“No idea, no idea,” Mourinho said.
“But, again, great opportunity for other players to play and I trust them all, so I am not going to cry or to be counting the days for Paul to be back. Not at all.”
Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini are competing to fill the midfield void against Southampton - the team Mourinho beat to win his first major trophy as United manager.
The Portuguese pointed to Louis van Gaal’s FA Cup triumph as being more important than February’s EFL Cup win, but believes things are improving under his tutelage across the field.
“The football team is improving, not just in results but also in a certain style of play,” he said. “Where the connection between the players, the team, the fans looks stronger and stronger; where the Manchester United fans around the world have more reasons to smile than in the recent past.”
Mourinho says Luke Shaw “has to improve” to get into United’s starting line-up.
Shaw made his latest return to fitness as a half-time substitute in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup win against Burton and, while calling for improvements, the United boss showed restraint when talking about the England international compared to last season.
“He has to work, just that,” Mourinho said.
“You saw the game, you saw the same as I see, so are you asking if he plays tomorrow? No, he is not playing tomorrow. He has to work. He has to improve.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino insists his Liverpool connections do not serve as an added incentive to beat their bitter rivals Manchester United.
The 45-year-old former central defender made 13 appearances for the Anfield club under Rafael Benitez in 2005 before returning to Merseyside as first-team coach in the summer of 2008.
Pellegrino is focused on gaining a positive result for his current employers, rather than settling any old scores.
“This is part of my history as a player and as a first coach with Rafa Benitez in Liverpool,” he said. “But for me my challenge is to try to prepare my team as best as possible to try to win the game.
“I don’t have any relationship with Liverpool.”
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