Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has continued his staunch defence of striker Romelu Lukaku and his attack on criticism from the club’s fans as the Reds bid to seal Champions League progress on Tuesday.
Lukaku has been in blistering form this season following his £75m summer move from Everton, scoring 11 times in all competitions, but has suffered a mini drought and is without a goal in five appearances.
The 24-year-old’s performance against Tottenham on Saturday drew groans from home supporters despite the Belgium frontman eventually setting up Anthony Martial for United’s winner.
And on the eve of his side’s Champions League Group A tussle with Benfica, Mourinho proceeded to express his displeasure with the treatment some fans have dished out to Lukaku, insisting he should be immune from negative comments.
“The fans are the fans. They pay for their ticket and are free to express how they want to express but my job is to protect my players when they deserve it,” said Mourinho. “Romelu is one of the players who should be untouchable in terms of respect from everyone.
“It’s not one goal or the ball going against the post or a save by the opposition keeper that can make Romelu’s contribution below the top level. He is playing extremely well for us.
“I need to protect my players when I feel they deserve it most. What he does for the team is fantastic. It is not just about scoring goals. He is untouchable in my team and he should be untouchable with the fans.
“I repeat, fans can do what they want, but I repeat I feel it is my duty to defend my players when I feel they deserve it.”
United currently top Group A with three wins from as many matches and sit three points clear of second-placed FC Basel. They could seal qualification to the last-16 on Tuesday.
“Our aim tomorrow is to qualify. Ten points would be okay to qualify but our main aim is to finish first in the group,” added Mourinho. “We know the stats are what they are but Basel has good results against CSKA Moscow and Benfica.
“Benfica will give us a difficult match. They have their own ambition and pride and they will try to win. We just want to get into the last 16 by finishing first in the group.”