Jose Mourinho has leapt to the defence of Manchester United's Marcos Rojo after the Argentine defender attracted criticism for another two-footed challenge during Wednesday night's (14 December) hard-fought 2-1 win over Crystal Palace.
Having been extremely fortunate to avoid being sent off for a reckless lunge on Everton midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye earlier this month, Rojo ran the risk of a red card at Selhurst Park with a similarly thoughtless tackle on winger Wilfried Zaha. However, once again he escaped with just a caution and Mourinho, while declining to discuss the specific challenge, insisted after the final whistle that the 26-year-old is not a dirty player.
"He is playing phenomenal. He is playing really well," the manager told reporters at his post-match press conference. "He is a clean player, [he is] aggressive [in] his nature, Argentinean. [He is] emotional, but very clean. I didn't comment on David Luiz on [Marouane] Fellaini, I didn't comment on [Danny] Rose on [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan, I'm not going to comment on this one."
Palace boss Alan Pardew inevitably disagreed with Craig Pawson's decision to brandish only a yellow card and the referee also came under fire for seemingly failing to spot a handball from Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the eventual match-winner laid on an assist for the offside Paul Pogba to put United ahead in first-half stoppage time. Joe Ledley also got away with blatantly handling in the penalty area and a goal from Juan Mata was harshly ruled out for offside to complete a forgettable night for the officials.
"From the sideline it did look bad," Pardew, who will be seriously feeling the pressure now with his side perched just three points above the relegation zone after a dismal run of only one win in 10 Premier League matches, told Sky Sports of Rojo's tackle. "He jumps two footed and we've been to all these meetings where that's a red card."
Having previously been chastised by United fans for not being up to the required standard, the versatile Rojo, questionable tackling aside, has really stepped up to the mark of late and formed an impressive understanding with the fit-again Phil Jones. That partnership could soon be broken up with Chris Smalling expected to finally return from a badly broken toe over Christmas, although Eric Bailly, who started at right-back against Palace, could be facing more time on the sidelines after being forced off before half-time with another knee issue.