In the end it was five for Manchester United. It could have been a lot more but they had to settle for five.
- Manchester United smash five past struggling Bournemouth
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Manchester United can still improve
It makes it 14 for them in the five games since football returned to action and they are now in the FA Cup semi-finals and firm favourites for a Champions League spot next season.
At times on Saturday United were brilliant. The link-up play between the front six was sublime, even Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw were getting involved with clever first-time passes from their full-back positions.
It’s no surprise that at the heart of this was winter signing Bruno Fernandes, rightly heralded as the club’s saviour since his arrival. Like so many elite players Fernandes just seems to have a little bit more time than the other 21 players, a little more nous if you will. The Portuguese midfielder capped off proceedings with a sublime free-kick.
Of course the other benefit of the arrival of Fernandes, aside from his class obviously, is what it has done for Paul Pogba, the other king of nous. Ever since his return from Juventus it has seemed difficult to find a place in the United line-up for the Frenchman, but maybe now we have it. With either Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay or Fred next to him, and Fernandes clearly in front, Pogba has the freedom of Old Trafford. Able to drop deep and pick up the ball and drive forward, or drift up the pitch while the move bypasses him before arriving at the crucial moment.
It helps of course, when those in front of him are playing the way they are. Remember back in the summer when United were blasted in the press and by fans for allowing Romelu Lukaku to join Inter Milan without spending that considerable transfer fee on another forward? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted as much at the time that they were unable to bring in a player they want.
Mason Greenwood of Manchester United celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth at Old Trafford
Image credit: Getty Images
“We are one down, to be fair, but we just didn’t find the right one,” the manager said earlier in the season. “We didn’t find the answer that we wanted.
“I do like the one [striker] who scores scrappy goals in and around the box – a young Ole or something,” Solskjær said, referring to himself. “It doesn’t have to be a 1.95 [metre] centre-forward. It could be sometimes if we want to play with two up, maybe a different type to what we have.”
At the same press conference Solskjaer hailed teenager Mason Greenwood for the way he “comes alive when he gets closer to goal,” and whether by design or by accident Solskjaer has found a system that almost negates the need for the striker he thought he required.
Interchanging, yet with a clear enough structure, United’s front three is a joy to behold. Perhaps not quite akin Tevez, Rooney, and Ronaldo but they’re not bad. After all this is the first season since that legendary group in 2007-08 that two United players have hit ten Premier League goals at Old Trafford.
The other stat doing the round after this game was that the trio of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Greenwood have now scored more goals than Liverpool’s front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. Of course those figures are slightly inflated by United’s exploits in the Europe League but it is still worth acknowledging (and getting excited about if you are a United fans). Solskjaer has found a system that gets the best out of these incredible young players, and the rest of the league needs to be worried.
What the other 19 Premier League managers probably won’t be losing sleep over is United’s defence, which is, still, worrying. United have kept two clean sheets since the restart but they were particularly susceptible to the pace of Bournemouth on the counter-attack on Saturday. The way Junior Stanislas sold Harry Maguire, an £80m centre-half was relatively alarming, the fact he beat David De Gea at his near post is just a sad representation of the status quo…
Before the match in his column former Manchester United full-back Paul Parker wrote that people are still struggling to compliment Solskjaer, but still urged for calm if any fans believed they could catch Liverpool next season.
“In terms of what they need. Definitely a centre forward, a central defender, and left back.” Parker said.
“Brandon Williams needs a run of games. He needs a chance, Luke Shaw is not doing enough defensively. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is great defensively and even better going forward, Shaw at the moment is not the master of anything, there is a problem there.
“In central defence, I’m not sure on Harry Maguire. I think he needs to go on the right side of central defence, because he hasn’t got a left foot. He makes the game too narrow when he runs out.
“I think they need Nathan Ake, he’s better in the opposing box and would be a good acquisition to play with Maguire to find out how good he really is. He would be an improvement on Victor Lindelof.”
Nathan Ake of Bournemouth gestures after Anthony Martial scores a goal to make it 3-1 during the Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth at Old Trafford on July 04, 2020 in Manchester, England. Football Stadiums around Europe re
Image credit: Getty Images
Ake was heavily involved in trying to repel United’s attacks on Saturdays and he is reportedly being chased by United’s rivals Manchester City as well. It’s hard to disagree with Parker’s suggestion that a new centre-half and left-back are needed, but it will be really interesting to see what happens with the striking department. As Rashford continues to develop United might feel they might be better off picking up another winger who can rotate with the rest of the front three, hence the links to Jadon Sancho.
The other question mark in the summer is going to be De Gea, whose passing was erratic at best, and as we have already touched upon was beaten far too easily for Bournemouth’s first goal. The difficult in evaluating top goalkeepers has already been touched upon, which is why comparisons between him and his opposite number Aaron Ramsdale are lazy. Ramsdale was always going to be busier than De Gea, and ergo have more chances to shine, but it was notable to watch him fly out of his goal to smother a couple of shots, the same could not have been said about De Gea.
United are now unbeaten in 16, and look a completely different side to the one that was embarrassed 2-0 at home to Burnley during their last loss in January, and suddenly this summer becomes more important than ever. Chelsea will spend big, that much we know, but Liverpool have already played down expectations for expensive signings. If the CAS hearing doesn’t go Manchester City’s way expect problems there and neither Arsenal nor Tottenham Hotspur will have Champions League football. If United can spend aggressively and, most importantly intelligently, they could be the ones to close the gap on Liverpool next season. It’s a big ask but they are trending in the right direction.