A buoyant Manchester United finished the calendar year with a thrilling win over Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth at Old Trafford.
United opened the scoring on the 5th minute thanks to some brilliant work from Marcus Rashford on the right wing. The Englishman picked the ball up out wide before he slalomed his way past Bournemouth’s defence and squared the ball to Paul Pogba in the six-yard box who converted the ball with ease.
United took their foot off the pedal after the opening goal though and invited pressure from a wounded Bournemouth – who conceded five at Wembley on Boxing Day. Joshua King and Callum Wilson were consistent threats to a fragile looking United back four but they were unable to put the ball in the back of the net and United went on to dominate proceedings.
Pogba was the centre of attention once again and on the 33rd minute, he rose highest to meet Ander Herrera’s sublime cross to head the ball past Admir Begović to double his side’s lead.
An electric first half concluded with two more goals. Rashford was rewarded for his hard work when he converted a brilliant ball into the box from Anthony Martial to put his side up by three goals in the dying moments of the first half. However, Bournemouth pulled one back in injury time when Nathan Aké capitalised on some poor defending from United and headed the ball into the back of De Gea’s net.
Romelu Lukaku came on as a substitute and sealed the victory for United on the 72nd minute. Starman Pogba dinked a beautifully weighted ball into the path of the Belgian striker who pounced on the opportunity and put the ball past Begović; although he was fortunate the offside flag did not deny him the fourth goal for his side.
United’s victory will be slightly soured after Eric Bailly was sent off for a reckless challenge on the 80th minute. All in all, a very promising end to 2018 for a United side who have languished for much of the year under Jose Mourinho.
Solskjaer continues to shine
United have picked up nine points from three games and scored 12 goals since Solskjaer took over as interim manager. What’s more impressive though is the performances the Norwegian is getting from a side that looked abject and aimless for much of this season.
Players like Rashford, Pogba and Martial have played with greater freedom and are now running rampant while stalwarts of Mourinho’s side such as Nemanja Matic are much more positive in the possession. While United have had a kind run of fixtures these last three matches, the manner and style in which they strolled to victory will give the Old Trafford faithful a reason for hope going into the New Year.
A day to forget for the Cherries
Eddie Howe’s men were looking to bounce back after a rough month which saw them emphatically beaten by Spurs, Wolves and Liverpool.
Unfortunately for them it just did not happen today. While there is an undoubted quality about players like Aké, Wilson and King, who all posed threats to United’s defence, the squad on the whole looked lethargic and bereft of ideas today. The Cherries will be looking to improve on their 12th place finish last season and should be in with a shout of a top half finish but Howe needs to implement a definitive style and formation if he is to get the best out of his side.
David De Gea and the elusive clean sheet
United have only kept two clean sheets this season with the last one coming in their 0-0 draw against Crystal Palace at the end of November. Despite his dip in form in the first half of the season, De Gea will feel aggrieved that a goalkeeper of his caliber has achieved so few clean sheets especially given how many points his heroics have won his side in recent seasons.
The Red Devils looked to be on course not to concede as the first half came to a close today. However, a momentary lapse of concentration resulted in a visibly dejected De Gea having to scoop the ball out of the back of his net once again. One suspects that Solskjaer’s New Year’s resolution will be to help his keeper get more clean sheets and shore up their leaky defence.
Pogba’s resurgence under Solskjaer has been nothing short of a Christmas miracle for United fans. The Frenchman has been dominant in the middle and attacking thirds for his team recently and today was no exception. After his two goals and assist today, Pogba has now been directly involved in seven of the 12 goals United have scored under Solskjaer, scoring four goals and providing three assists.
He set the tone for United today scoring their opening two goals before providing the assist for Lukaku’s goal late in the second half. Pogba’s athleticism saw him cover every inch of the pitch today as he occupied every position from the second striker to defensive midfielder.
Although he was never known as a prolific goalscorer, Pogba is now complementing his impressive assist record and passing ability with a ruthlessness in front of goal which should strike fear into the hearts of United’s opponents going forward.
Bailly’s horror show
Serious questions over whether or not Bailly is capable of performing at this level have to be asked after his performance today.
The Ivorian defender should have given away a penalty and been sent off on the 69th minute when he, for want of a better word, karate kicked Charlie Daniels in the chin inside United’s penalty area. How the referee and his assistants missed the horrendous challenge is beyond me and Bournemouth will feel aggrieved that they were not awarded the penalty as it could have provided them with a lifeline and brought the score to 3-2.
However, Bailly gave the officials another opportunity to punish his stupidity just over ten minutes later when he lunged into a two-footed tackle on Ryan Fraser and was promptly sent off. The challenge itself was utterly inexplicable given the fact that it occurred on the halfway line when United were 4-1 up with just ten minutes to go and will put something of a dampener on an otherwise excellent United performance.