Bournemouth-Manchester United Preview
Out to extend their scintillating form and remain in the Champions League hunt, Manchester United look to make it five wins on the trot in all competitions Saturday when they host relegation-threatened Bournemouth at Old Trafford.
United (14-10-8) are in a four-way fight for either the last two or three Champions League spots pending eternal rivals Manchester City's appeal of their UEFA-imposed two-year ban on European play at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side enter this contest fifth in the table on 52 points, ahead of Wolverhampton on goal difference, but also only three back of slumping Leicester City for third.
The former United striker and current manager watched his side clinically dispatch Brighton and Hove Albion 3-0 on the road Tuesday, with Bruno Fernandes bagging a brace on either side of halftime after 18-year-old Mason Greenwood staked United to a lead just after the quarter-hour. Fernandes' second shortly after the restart was a goal of counterattacking beauty – it involved four players, six touches, and took all of 11 seconds, with the Portugal international first-timing a cross from the starlet Greenwood from close range.
"You know, it's not easy being a young boy, he could still play in this season's FA Youth Cup team, so he's a young boy that we have to look after," Solskjaer said of Greenwood at his Friday press conference. "But he's performing from the bench or when he starts, and he's developed fantastically this season. So, the sky is the limit, it's up to him. He knows what he should do and can do and must do, to keep on playing, but that will be between us."
Fernandes, a January signing, has been instrumental in lifting United from their midseason doldrums as they enter this contest unbeaten in 15 matches (11-4-0) in all competitions. He has seamlessly slotted into the midfield and shown an immediate chemistry with a now-healthy Paul Pogba to the point where it may be possible the mercurial World Cup winner will stay at Old Trafford next season.
Though United look to have a relatively easy run-in to continue their bid for a Champions League berth next term, Solskjaer is taking nothing for granted given the run of results his side had in the reverse fixtures.
"I've seen lots of quotes that we have an easy run in," he noted. "But then the next five games they are against Bournemouth, we lost to them in the previous game. Aston Villa, we drew to them at home at Old Trafford. We have Southampton, which we drew to, we lost to Palace, we lost to West Ham, so there's teams that we've got a point to prove against.
"We know that we have to improve on our last performances against them. No, I don't think it's an easy game, I think it's the same answer really. What anyone else thinks it doesn't really matter, because we know to win a game of football we have to perform.
There is, however, no denying Bournemouth (7-6-19) come to the "Theatre of Dreams" in nightmarish form. The Cherries are 19th in the table on 27 points, trailing Aston Villa on goals scored, but also only three points from vaulting out of the drop.
Eddie Howe's side have dropped all three matches in Project Restart, including a shambolic 4-1 home loss to Newcastle United on Wednesday. Bournemouth let Allan Saint-Maximin run riot as he set up Newcastle's first three goals, while unfinished chances by Dominic Solanke were left begging as Howe's future at the club became more speculative than it was pre-match.
"I don't need assurances," insisted Howe, who has overseen the rise of Bournemouth over the past decade-plus from a League One outfit save his one-plus seasons at Burnley, to The Times. "The club will do what is best for them. We have a very open and honest relationship, if the club felt it wanted to go in a different direction, that's up to them. My emotional energy is not in doubt."
While the energy may not be in doubt, the talent level will be lacking as first-choice striker Callum Wilson will complete his two-match ban for his 10 yellow cards. That leaves the 22-year-old Solanke again likely to lead the line, still looking for his first league goal with the Cherries in what will be his 38th match.
For all their struggles, Bournemouth do have the chance to complete their first Premier League double over United after a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture on Joshua King's goal right before intermission. The Cherries are 0-1-7 in all competitions at Old Trafford, with their best result a 1-1 draw in March 2017.
Updated July 3, 2020