Premier League, December 30 2018
Pogba (5, 33)
Manchester United made it three wins out of three under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a comprehensive victory over Bournemouth at Old Trafford. The rejuvenated Paul Pogba opened the scoring in the fifth minute, tapping home from close range after excellent work from Marcus Rashford down the right. The French midfielder netted his and his team’s second just past the half-hour mark, rising to head home an Ander Herrera cross, before Rashford got on the scoresheet himself just before half-time. Nathan Ake’s header moments later gave United something to think about at the break, but the hosts never looked in any real trouble and substitute Romelu Lukaku finished confidently to end the contest 20 minutes from time. Eric Bailly’s late dismissal was the only blot on the day, as United moved closer to fifth-placed Arsenal.
10 / 7
SHOTS / ON TARGET
7 / 3
Passes / Accurate
10 / 2 / 1
Fouls / Yellow / Red
6 / 0 / 0
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set Manchester United up in an attacking 4-2-3-1 structure. Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera formed the double pivot, with only one dropping in front of Bournemouth’s two strikers. This was usually Matic, which allowed Herrera to move between the visitors’ lines – albeit against a two-on-one central overload.
The hosts thus looked to play across their back line and attack around this central overload, with Paul Pogba moving higher to draw a central defender away from lone forward Marcus Rashford. Early clipped balls into the final third, around the sides of Bournemouth’s block, proved a threat, with Rashford’s willing running and superb skill leading to Pogba’s opening goal as early as the fifth minute.
Matic’s body shape regularly helped the hosts to play forward, rather than setting the ball back to his central defenders. This small detail helped bring Pogba and Jesse Lingard into the game, as they received more passes in advanced positions behind Bournemouth’s central midfield trio. Ashley Young moved higher from right-back, with Herrera dropping into a false full-back position; this freed Lingard to become another central attacking option, joining Pogba and Rashford in a slick central attacking trio against the visitors’ three centre-backs.
United looked capable of scoring at any given time, even against Bournemouth’s compact and low block, but when they failed to link midfield with attack they were vulnerable. Matic’s newfound freedom in possession became a problem if he lost the ball, particularly with Herrera in the false full-back role and unable to cover. At the other end of the pitch, however, the hosts were far more effective than we have seen through much of the season to date; Pogba headed home a second as Herrera crossed from the right, while another Matic ball found Anthony Martial free on the right to cross for Rashford to net United’s third.
The home side continued to search for balls in behind in the second half, with Lingard and Martial the key runners across Bournemouth’s back line. Pogba’s early forward passing and Rashford’s dropping movements helped them penetrate in behind by dragging the opposition centre-backs out of shape. However, their overall build slowed in the second half, as Pogba moved into a slightly deeper role to help the team maintain possession within midfield. The World Cup winner did still create a fourth goal, however, playing in behind for substitute Romelu Lukaku to finish.
Without the ball, United used a structured 4-2-3-1 formation designed to force the ball wide. Possibly wary of the counter-attacking threat posed by right wing-back Jordon Ibe, left-back Luke Shaw remained a fixed part of the back line during the build, unlike Young on the right. So, when the hosts did lose possession, Bournemouth were mostly encouraged to attack down the United right.
During prolonged spells without the ball, the hosts used a mid-block defensive strategy aimed at reducing the spaces in which Bournemouth could build. They looked most vulnerable when defending set-pieces, particularly corners. With Bournemouth unable to create clear-cut chances from open play, they built in wide areas and looked to win corners and free-kicks where possible – it was from one such set-piece that Nathan Ake scored the visitors’ sole goal.
The hosts continued their press in the second half, with Rashford particularly impressive in both his intensity and the speed of his recoveries. Matic would occasionally follow Junior Stanislas, which did create gaps for the visitors in midfield, but he and Herrera otherwise sat close to their centre-backs in a low block. United never looked in any danger of relinquishing their lead in a controlled second half, despite a red card for Eric Bailly – and 12 goals in three victories suggests that the quest for a Champions League spot is back on.
Eddie Howe set Bournemouth up in a 3-5-2 formation in possession, with Jordon Ibe and Diego Rico providing width from wing-back and Josh King and Callum Wilson leading the line. Their opponents’ dominance of possession ensured their attacking play was limited to moments of transition for much of the first half, but the threat of Anthony Martial on the United left meant Ibe struggled to advance on his flank. Rico had more space on the Bournemouth left, where the advancing Ashley Young left space in behind.
As Bournemouth settled, Callum Wilson’s diagonal runs towards the left proved another useful attacking outlet. Long balls into the striker helped Bournemouth to build and penetrate into the final third, dragging United’s centre-backs out of their central base and creating gaps for runners to support from midfield. Rather than linking with through balls and sets to shoot in the central lane, advanced midfielders Junior Stanislas and David Brooks looked to switch play. This finally helped get Ibe into attacking positions, with Martial not keen on recovering all the way back into his defensive third. Ibe was able to play in a number of decent crosses as the visitors grew into the game, but his teammates were unable to truly test David de Gea. Instead, it was from a set-piece that the visitors grabbed their only goal, with Brooks eventually crossing for centre-back Nathan Ake to head home.
In the second half, with the game effectively gone, the Cherries still showed their patience in possession. With Ake no longer driving forward from his position in the centre of the back three, Stanislas started dropping shorter – which either gave him space to turn and play forward, or dragged Nemanja Matic with him to create more space in behind. Ultimately, the visitors lacked the quality in the final third to seriously trouble a United block that had the protection of both Matic and Herrera in front of the defence.
Out of possession, Bournemouth utilised a 5-3-2 mid-block, but had early troubles with the spaces in the inside lanes and wide areas. Diagonal runs from the likes of Martial, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford stretched their back line, with United having the clear pace advantage. As the visitors utilised a mid-block, there was just enough space for through balls, with goalkeeper Asmir Begovic often needed to sweep. The hosts’ opener still came from a long pass in behind, however, with Rashford superbly beating more than one defender before crossing for Paul Pogba.
Pogba’s high position continued to occupy right-sided centre-back Steve Cook, with Lingard also joining centrally to in effect create a dangerous three-on-three. This vulnerability naturally pushed Bournemouth back into a low block, with the central midfield trio of Andrew Surman, Brooks and Stanislas dropping deeper and reducing United’s penetrations centrally. This did enhance the available space in the channels, however – and the hosts took advantage of this in creating both their second and third goals from wide on their right.
Bournemouth’s mid-block continued in the second half, and they were eventually undone by another ball in behind – this time from Pogba, for sub Romelu Lukaku to beat a tiring defence and finish the game as a contest.
Author: Tony Hodson