Manchester United vs AFC Bournemouth
Venue: Old Trafford
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Referee: Lee Mason
Rejuvenated ‘Ole’ led Manchester United will head into the last Premier League fixture of the year, with hopes of continuing the goal scoring spree they have had in the last two games. Caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has overseen comprehensive wins against Cardiff and Huddersfield in his first two matches since succeeding Jose Mourinho. United are expected to recall top-scorer Anthony Martial to their starting line-up against Bournemouth with the Frenchman nearing a return to full fitness.
Martial has been United’s most potent attacking threat this season with eight Premier League goals but missed the 3-1 win over Huddersfield on Boxing Day due to illness.
The 23-year-old Frenchman is expected to come back into the fold this weekend and could be joined by Romelu Lukaku, with the Belgian set to be available following compassionate leave. United are waiting on another training session to determine the fitness of Alexis Sanchez alongside Martial and Lukaku.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, travel to Old Trafford on the back of a Boxing Day 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Spurs at Wembley. A tough test faces Eddie Howe’s side, as they will play a Red Devils team re-energised and rejigged under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Under the ‘interim’ Norwegian the Mancunians have scored eight goals in two victories.
Bournemouth have never recorded a Premier League win against Manchester United at Old Trafford, but drew 1-1 in March 2017. Whether they can break the hoodoo just as United seem to have found form will be interesting to see.
The Cherries have suffered a huge injury blow as their captain Simon Francis has been ruled out of the game against Manchester United on Sunday. Eddie Howe confirmed the defender will miss the trip to Old Trafford as he has been ruled out for up to nine months after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Manchester United: Form and Stats
What’s stood out most clearly from Solskjaer’s first two games in charge is the emphasis on risk-taking. Freed from the shackles of Mourinho, the United players are obviously revelling in the instruction to get creative in all areas of the pitch. This includes the license to take on your man instead of turn and pass it backwards, to bust a gut to make a decoy run instead of holding your position, and to try the 15-yard vertical pass instead of the safe sideways option.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will want his men to continue to express themselves and extend his winning start as caretaker Manchester United manager whilst hoping to close the gap on the Premier League’s top four. United have scored eight times in their two matches under Solskjaer but failed to keep a clean sheet in either, giving Sunday’s visitors some hope of getting back to scoring ways at the Theatre of Dreams.
A 5-1 thrashing of former club Cardiff City las Saturday was almost ideal in terms of managerial debuts for Solskjaer. The Norwegian was then treated to a rapturous atmosphere in his first outing at Old Trafford on Wednesday when his team beat Huddersfield Town 3-1.
While a top four finish may be too great a challenge considering the six-point gap separating them from Arsenal, the fans on the red side of Manchester will just be enjoying seeing their side play with a renewed freedom under the new boss.
Eight goals in two matches is an extremely encouraging return for a team that looked lacking in ideas at times under Mourinho, and they should be confident of adding to that return against Eddie Howe’s men.
Manchester United will be looking to record a trio of consecutive wins in the Premier League for the first time this season as they sit sixth in the Premier League, 19 points behind table-toppers Liverpool.
AFC Bournemouth: Form and Stats
Bournemouth have been in considerably worse form and have lost eight of their past 10 matches, including a 5-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on Boxing Day.
Ole’s men will have to look out for the inventive Fraser and Brooks, along with dangerous striker Callum Wilson, who recently scored his first international goal for England.
The Cherries started off strongly in the opening months of their campaign and were up in the European spots for much of the early stages of the season, but they’ve fallen into mid-table during recent weeks, largely due to a disappointing record on the road. On Sunday they will be looking to avoid their fifth consecutive away league defeat after falling to Newcastle, Manchester City, Wolves and Tottenham on their most recent trips.
The Boxing Day defeat at Wembley was a worrying 5-0 reverse to Mauricio Pochettino’s flying Spurs, though Bournemouth spurned early opportunities through Ryan Fraser and David Brooks, and were unlucky to fall behind to Christian Eriksen’s cruelly deflected long-range strike.
Despite those results, the Cherries will still look forward to playing their part in what promises to be an open and entertaining game at Old Trafford. Outside of the top six, only Everton have notched more than Bournemouth’s 27 goals and Man United have kept only a single clean sheet at Old Trafford this season.
Paul Pogba – Manchester United
One of the key strategical change led by Ole, Mike Phelan and team post-Jose’s departure has been the creative captaincy and freedom being handed over to Paul Pogba. Solskjaer appears to be building the team around Pogba by ensuring the defensive and attacking structures are robust enough without him. The result has been the return of Pogba’s swagger, scoring and creating with the sort of idiosyncratic magic that justifies letting this maverick genius go rogue.
Paul Pogba is an enigma chiefly because he wants to be involved in every move in every area of the pitch, believing himself to be the complete footballer despite his poor positional play and inability to track back effectively. He is a park player: a luxury playmaker at heart who sees himself as an all-action midfield engine.
Solskjaer deserves credit for giving Pogba total freedom, rather than attempting to clip his wings as perhaps Mourinho did. Pogba is the most talented player at the club on his day, and those days will become more frequent if the French international is given freedom to dictate further up the pitch.
The Frenchman now has 5 goals and 5 assists this season, of which 5 contributions have come post-Mourinho’s departure. “Captioned” all right!!
David Brooks – AFC Bournemouth
Brooks is probably the standout story from Bournemouth’s season so far. The 21-year-old was relatively unknown to those unfamiliar with football outside of the Premier League when he joined from Sheffield United in the summer, but the intelligent, lively midfielder has quickly made a name for himself, providing both goals and assists. As a teenager, Brooks was on the books at Manchester City, before being released, and has found his way to the top through hard work and humility.
The Welshman now is second top scorer for Eddie Howe, behind Callum Wilson, with five goals
After losing their first ever league clash with Bournemouth in December 2015, Manchester United are unbeaten in each of the last six Premier League games against them (W5 D1).
Bournemouth have never beaten Man Utd at Old Trafford in all competitions, losing six and drawing one. The Cherries have netted just two goals in those seven matches.
In all competitions, Bournemouth have won just two of their 15 previous matches against Manchester United (D3 L10), keeping just one clean sheet in the process (2-0-win January 1984, FA Cup Round 3).
Manchester United are looking to secure three consecutive Premier League victories for the first time since a run of five in April.
Manchester United have failed to score in more home league games this season (2) than they’ve kept clean sheets at Old Trafford (1).
Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku has scored seven goals in just six Premier League appearances against Bournemouth, including bagging six in his last three versus the Cherries.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is looking to become only the third Man Utd manager to win his first three league games in charge of the club, after Matt Busby and his predecessor Jose Mourinho.
Head to head
As hard it is to believe, Bournemouth have only recently(2015) come up from the lower leagues of English football and have only with Manchester United 15 times. Since their first meeting back in 1949, the Red Devils have managed ten victories – losing just twice, which along with their form should stand them in good stead ahead of Sunday’s meeting.
The pair met on the 3rd of November in the reverse fixture in the Premier League – 3rd November to be exact – when Mourinho’s United came from behind to claim three points courtesy of strikes from Martial and a last-minute winner from Marcus Rashford.
Anthony Martial will face a late fitness test after missing the win over Huddersfield through illness last timeout, while Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez could also be in contention after returning from compassionate leave and injury respectively. Ivory Coast International could be in contention to start with Lindelof as well. Chris Smalling (foot), Rojo and Scott McTominay (Knock) are ruled out.
Man Utd academy players RoShaun Williams, Angel Gomes and DJ Buffonge trained with the first team at Carrington ahead of the Bournemouth fixture and one or more of them could find themselves on the bench again.
Simon Francis was stretchered off in the 5-0 defeat to Tottenham last time out, joining Adam Smith, Dan Gosling and Lewis Cook on the sidelines for this game.
Predicted Starting XIs
Man Utd (4-3-3): De Gea; Young, Lindelof, Jones, Shaw; Matic, Herrera, Pogba; Martial, Rashford, Lukaku
AFC Bournemouth (4-4-2): Begovic; Mings, Cook, Ake, Daniels; Lerma, Surman, Ibe, Fraser; Brooks, Wilson
Score Prediction: Manchester United 3 Bournemouth 2
With Bournemouth having conceded 10 goals in just their last three away league games, and United’s fragile defence, expect goals at a frantic pace at both ends.
It is funny how the players are all starting to run around now for Ole’s United.
The momentum looks to be running in favour of the new-and-improved Red Devils leading up to Sunday, when Solskjaer and Co. will hope to end 2018 in victorious fashion.