LONDON • Jose Mourinho has insisted that Marcos Rojo is "an aggressive but clean player", after the defender risked a red card by launching into another two-footed challenge during Manchester United's 2-1 victory against Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Rojo lunged at Wilfried Zaha during the first half at Selhurst Park, with the Premier League game still goalless, but was only booked by the referee, Craig Pawson.
The Argentina international had been guilty of a similar offence against Idrissa Gueye in the draw at Everton on Dec 4, earning a yellow card from Michael Oliver that night at Goodison Park.
"From the sidelines, it did look bad," said the Palace manager, Alan Pardew, of Rojo's latest offence. "He jumps two-footed on (Zaha), and we've been to all these meetings where (we're told) that's a red card."
Mourinho refused to comment on the tackle itself, but was quick to defend his player's conduct.
"He's playing really well, phenomenal," said the Portuguese, whose side are now unbeaten in seven Premier League games and six points off the top four.
PATH TO THE TOP
Now comes West Bromwich Albion, very difficult, and then Sunderland and Middlesbrough, and Leicester who are a few points from relegation. Very difficult. But we are playing well.
JOSE MOURINHO, who feels that the top of the Premier League table is within reach for his team, despite the looming encounters.
"He's a clean player, aggressive. His nature, Argentinian, is emotional but very clean, and he's playing probably the best football of his career.
"I didn't comment on David Luiz's tackle on Marouane Fellaini, or Danny Rose's tackle on Henrikh Mkhitaryan. So I'm not going to comment on this one."
Both teams had reason to bemoan oversights by the officials, with Pardew dismayed that the visitors' opener in first-half stoppage time was allowed to stand after Zlatan Ibrahimovic's apparent handball and with the scorer, Paul Pogba, in an offside position.
"The first goal was a call the linesman should have seen. I thought it was offside even from where I was standing," said Pardew. "He refereed the game aggressively. A lot of fouls and it could have flowed a bit better."
Ibrahimovic appeared to support Pardew's view that Palace had been hard done by.
"Could be, could be," the United forward said when asked if the ball had struck his arm. "I saw Paul free and just tried to get it forward, and I think it did touch the hand a little bit."
Yet, Joe Ledley's hand-ball might have earned United a penalty of their own after the interval before Ibrahimovic plundered the winner the visitors' dominance merited.
Wayne Rooney had been substituted at 1-1 just after the penalty incident and took his own frustrations out on the fourth official, Stuart Attwell.
"Wayne was angry about a possible penalty," said Mourinho. "He was complaining with the referee on the pitch and the fourth official on the bench. He was really upset with it. But even at 1-1, I told him to forget it."
Mourinho said that he can "smell" the top of the table after they followed up Sunday's 1-0 win over Tottenham with three more points to stay in touch with the Champions League places.
"Now comes West Bromwich Albion, very difficult, and then Sunderland and Middlesbrough, and Leicester who are a few points from relegation. Very difficult. But we are playing well," he said.
"Three matches to play until the end of the year. Let's see how it ends on Dec 31 and we can feel then, and smell, what is possible in the second half of the season."
THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON