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Examining Jose Mourinho's puzzling dig at Manchester United fans

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Was Mourinho right to criticise United fans? (2:47)

Alison Bender and Stewart Robson discuss whether Jose Mourinho was right to criticise Manchester United fans who booed Romelu Lukaku. (2:47)

Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at the weekend and the fans leaving Old Trafford were largely happy. Both sides defended well and the game was reduced to one good chance for each side: Dele Alli missed his and Anthony Martial put his away to win the game.

The match was fairly uneventful, other than a few moments of frustration from the crowd. The many perceived poor decisions from referee Jon Moss earned plenty of grumbles, as did, to a lesser extent, Romelu Lukaku's failure to hold up the ball.

The spat between Alli and Ashley Young also got the fans going, with reports suggesting that Alli told Young it was time for him to retire, while the left-back responded by goading Alli over his lack of silverware.

The greatest reaction from the fans came for the decision to substitute Marcus Rashford for Martial though.

Jose Mourinho started the game with five defenders as well as two holding midfielders. With the scoreline at 0-0, United fans didn't want to see their best attacking option taken off for Martial, so plenty voiced their annoyance with Mourinho's substitution decision by booing.

All's well that ends well, and United were happy with the three points. Yet after the game, Mourinho made some puzzling statements about the way the fans had treated Lukaku.

"I would like the supporters to explain to me why they don't support him [Lukaku] so much," Mourinho said, leaving many United fans scratching their heads.

Was he suggesting that when booing the decision to take off Rashford that they had hoped Lukaku had gone off instead?

United fans wanted more forwards on the field, not a like-for-like substitution. The supporters didn't want Lukaku to be taken off either, they wanted a goal and there's a greater chance of that happening with the Belgian on the pitch, as his assist for Martial's goal proved.

The supporters shrugged Mourinho's comments off though and turned their attention to Benfica.

Then, in Mourinho's news conference ahead of Tuesday night's Champions League tie, Mourinho again reiterated his point about Lukaku and the fans.

He claimed the supporters were free to express themselves as they liked but it was his job to protect his players and ensure they got the respect they deserved.

What is Mourinho referring to? Surely not the frustrated groans when Lukaku lost the ball? If he's arguing the striker has been shown a lack of respect because the fans were annoyed that an attacking move or two needlessly broke down, he's mad.

Mourinho is never sloppy with his words. If he's saying something, there's a reason for it, so what point is he trying to make here?

This is a fan base that didn't even boo David Moyes during his disastrous tenure, a group of fans who sung as loudly as they ever have during the 3-0 defeats against Liverpool and City that season, much to the gratitude of the players at the time. All Mourinho has to do is tap the United badge on his jacket a few times and hail them as the best in the world, and they're putty in his hands. So why accuse them of something he surely can't possibly believe to be true?

Maybe Mourinho wanted to give Lukaku a kick up the backside, having gone five games without a goal after the Spurs game, by suggesting he was losing the affection of the fans?

Maybe he wants to encourage those in the stadium to show even greater support for Lukaku to help the goals return as frequently as they did during the opening few months of his United career?

Or maybe, already, this is the start of the bizarre behaviour that precedes the Mourinho meltdown when he leaves a club...

His need for conflict is strange and with these latest comments he's fighting a needless battle that would be better off left alone. If anyone is lacking respect here, it's Mourinho for following up with his PSG flirtation with an inaccurate dig at the fans.

Mourinho ended the Spurs game by placing his finger over his lips. He probably should have left it there.