Monday, 15 August 2016

United Off And Running

Bournemouth 1 Manchester United 3

Jose Mourinho's Premier League campaign as Manchester United manager got off to a winning start as his team came away from the Vitality Stadium full of life after collecting all three points against Bournemouth.

New season, new manager, new players, new kit and new hopes at the start of a League season that promises so much for a club that has vastly under performed for the last three years.

The week had started with United's world record signing of Paul Pogba who would have to wait a little longer to make his debut as he sat out the opener due to a ban carried over from last season at Juventus.

Even without their new midfielder, United would prove to be too much for the Cherries with a performance that started slowly but moved up through the gears as the match progressed.

Jose Mourinho picked a slightly tweaked starting XI from the one that began the Community Shield at Wembley last week. De Gea, Valencia, Blind, Bailly, Shaw, Fellaini, Herrera, Mata, Rooney, Martial and Ibrahimovic.

Juan Mata was given a chance to prove that he and Mourinho can work together as the Spaniard was selected due to an injury to Wembley goal hero Lingard. It was the substitution of the substitute at Wembley that sparked a debate all week concerning the future of the player whom Mourinho sold while at Chelsea. Mata's start meant that he would play in his 52nd consecutive league game for United.

United got the match underway at the Vitality Stadium attired in their new white away kit with the fantastic away support in brilliant voice as always.

The opening minutes had more of a getting to know you feel for both sides and some players looked a little rusty in some areas including Shaw, who almost made a complete hash of a clearance and at the other end Rooney should have done better on the byline but conceded a goal kick.

United defender Bailly announced his introduction to the Premier League with a crushing but fair challenge on opponent King, who proceeded to make a meal of it. Thankfully, referee Andre Marriner didn't buy the act.

Fellow Premier League debutant Ibrahimovic rose well for a ball that was hoisted to the far post and fell heavily to the ground after clashing heads with a defender. He got to his feet, had his head checked by the physio and was able to continue.

As the half-hour mark approached the away side started to put together some neat passes and made inroads into the Cherries defence, especially down the right wing where Valencia, making his 250th club appearance, continued his fine form from the pre-season. United only needed to turn that pressure into scoring opportunities. One of those chances culminated into a chance for Rooney. In the end his well struck shot was easily claimed by keeper Boruc.

Fellaini got into his usual spat with the opposition after a scramble in the home side's penalty area as three players surrounded him following another one of his robust challenges elbows and all.

Then United's first league goal of the season came out of nothing but has to be put down to the persistence of a player under huge scrutiny in sections of the media.

It just had to be Juan Mata, who managed to score the first Premier League goal under Mourinho's tenure. With only five minutes left on the clock before half-time the diminutive Spaniard latched onto a short back pass after a through ball from his amigo Herrera.

He quickly nipped onto the ball and tried to slip it under the approaching keeper's body, but that only took the sting out of the shot so he made sure of the goal by continuing his run and tapping the ball into an empty net.

Before half-time is always a great time to score especially in this match as it was a first period that can only be described as a laboured performance from United as they struggled to find the cohesion needed to take the lead until the Bournemouth defence gifted them their goal scoring opportunity.

The second half got underway with Mourinho deciding against making any changes.

It was captain Rooney who had the first opening of the half as Ibrahimovic played a clever ball into the path of his run, but his following shot was well saved by Boruc. This was followed by a big shout for a penalty by both the away players and travelling fans as Rooney seemed to have his ankles clipped by Surman inside the box but the referee waved play on. That was a very close call indeed.

As a spectacle, the match had moved up a pace as both sides quickened the play as the home side searched for an equaliser and the Red Devils went in search of the goal that would put the game to bed.

Right on cue, it was Wayne Rooney, who came up with the goods just before the hour mark as he headed home skillfully after more good work from Valencia down the right wing.

From the Ecuadorian's well-worked cross Martial miscued a volley which he fired into the ground and as the ball rebounded skyward Rooney managed to get his head to it and directed it past the reach of Boruc into the back of the net. Rooney is another goal nearer Sir Bobby Charlton's scoring record and if he nets a hat-trick against Southampton he will draw level.

United seem to have found a new free kick taker as Ibrahimovic took responsibility on the edge of the box, but his goal-bound effort was expertly saved by Boruc.

However, the Swede was not to be outdone as in the 64th minute Ibrahimovic collected the ball some distance from goal and with nothing on ahead of him tried his luck with a right-footed shot along the ground which entered the net in the far corner much to the delight of Mourinho and the watching bench.

The goal is the latest milestone in the great man's career as he has now scored on his debut in all his league starts.

You would have thought that having conceded the third goal Bournemouth would crumble and try to limit the damage, but to their credit they plugged away and did manage to give the home fans some joy five minutes later when Adam Smith embarrassed the United defence and scored a fine goal to pull one back.

The first substitution by Mourinho came when he introduced Mkhitaryan for scorer Mata with fifteen minutes of the match remaining. When Mkhitaryan came on as a substitute he became the first Armenian to play in the Premier League. A distinction he can be very proud of.

The play had become somewhat stale until Ibrahimovic made a surge toward the area, but his pass across the box found none of his teammates.

Herrera celebrated his birthday in a way he won't want to remember by being cautioned for a foul.

There were a couple of late changes by United as the game was all but won when Mourinho decided to give Schneiderlin and Memphis a run out when they replaced Martial and Rooney.

As the game entered the final seconds De Gea came up with a wonderful save diving at full stretch to thwart a certain goal he then stood up to excellently block another effort.

In the end, United finished the game comfortably and gave their manager his first three points as the boss. The team played with more pace in their play during the second period and each player seemed to enjoy themselves without the restraints that Louis van Gaal had imposed on them during his time as manager.

Mourinho has already started to stamp his style on the side and it's a style that is pleasing to the eye and once he can get all the players to the standard he expects then opposing teams will have to beware.

Lots of positives can be taken from the performances, especially the back four, who apart from conceding the goal didn't put a foot wrong. Shaw and Valencia offered great support to the forwards down the flanks and Blind had one if his best games for a long while.

However, it was Blind's defensive partner Bailly, who once again took the man of the match plaudits for his all round solid display that has given the fans a new hero at the back. Not since the likes of Jaap Stam and Nemanja Vidic have we had such a fearless character at the back. There will be a few Bournemouth attackers nursing some bruises after coming into contact with the Ivorian.

Herrera as always covered the pitch well in the middle and provided a good link between defence and attack. After some poor performances Fellaini showed that he can play with what has to be his best display for a very long time. Mata scored and had to be pleased as he has nothing to prove to anybody.

Up front Martial had fleeting moments of inspiration and the signs are there for all to see that he is slowly on his way back to top form. Ibrahimovic scored as he always does and did enough to further cement his future as a cult hero among the faithful.

A special mention has to go to captain Wayne Rooney, who came in for criticism from some quarters last week after his timid display at Wembley. But here against Bournemouth he played further up the field, therefore, confirming the manager's opinion that he is not to be wasted in the midfield where he can do no damage. He needs to be playing up front a point which was proven today.

So, in a week that started and ended so positively all eyes will be focused on Old Trafford on Friday in a match that should see the second Manchester United debut for a certain Paul Pogba against Southampton. The question will be which player will make way for him?

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

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