Jose Mourinho has revealed that he issued an apology to Henrikh Mkhitaryan in front of his teammates inside the dressing room for replacing him after the break in Manchester United's 2-0 win over Derby County in the FA Cup on Friday, 5 January.
The Armenian international has struggled for form and confidence for the majority of the season, which has forced him to settle for a place on the bench in Premier League fixtures. However, despite a disappointing display in the Red Devils' goalless draw against Southampton, Mkhitaryan was handed a start against the Championship side in the FA Cup.
Romelu Lukaku, meanwhile, made his return to the squad and was on the bench, along with Anthony Martial, to face Derby. The Portuguese tactician fielded Marcus Rashford to lead United's attack at Old Trafford.
Mourinho stressed that he felt United would struggle to score with Rashford leading the attack and that forced him to bring Lukaku for the second half, which resulted in Mkhitaryan being withdrawn after the first 45 minutes.
"[It was] unfair [to take Mkhitaryan off] and I told him that at half-time. I didn't like what I did. He didn't deserve it, he was playing well, he wasn't playing bad," Mourinho explained, as quoted by United's official website.
"He had a couple of missed passes but he was playing well and giving a good dynamic to the team. My feeling was just that Rashford is not going to score a goal and because of that I'm not going to lose time and I'm going to play Romelu [Lukaku]. So then I had to sacrifice a player.
"Micki was the one that I sacrificed but it's something that I don't normally do but I did at half-time and apologised to him in front of other people because he didn't deserve it."
Meanwhile, Jesse Lingard continued his fine form as he helped the 20-time champions of England open the scoring in the final quarter of the match. Lukaku doubled the lead minutes later and the two goals made sure United progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The former Real Madrid and Chelsea manager was delighted with his side's display and admitted that United had a "good game" against Derby.
"I was confident because the team never stopped to play, to try, but at the same time, it happened, for example, recently against Southampton here where we kept playing and the goal never arrived," he said.
"But I think we played well, I think we had a good game, I think they gave us a difficult game because they defended very, very well. But I think we deserved the victory. To be honest, I don't think we need a replay.
"I don't think a team like them fighting for promotion needs a replay but that's the rule of the competition and we almost had to go for a second game."