Premier League football is finally back, and there’s no better week to watch as Manchester United plays AFC Bournemouth for the chance to finally get out of sixth place. Liverpool’s defeat to Leicester City, combined with their next fixture against Arsenal, means that United are guaranteed to be in at least fifth with a win this weekend.
Wins for Liverpool and United would put Arsenal in sixth place, and United in fifth, a point behind Liverpool, with a game in hand, a great position to be in after United’s EFL Cup win and Europa League progress. However, United has a tendency to draw important matches at Old Trafford this season and to avoid that, Jose Mourinho’s key players will likely have to be fit and firing.
Ander Herrera, Central Midfielder, Manchester United
Much of United’s Starting XI was off the pace against Southampton after a tough week, but Ander Herrera remained at his phenomenal best, completely shutting Southampton out from central areas and eventually marauding forward to earn the assist for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal. Completing seven tackles is an incredible feat in itself, without considering his 84% pass accuracy and two key passes.
Herrera even made two dribbles and was fouled three times, relieving pressure at key moments for United- looking at this performance alone, which wasn’t even one of his best this season, one can understand Herrera’s excellence this season. Not only is the Spaniard contributing to United’s attacking phase with his usual world class talent, but this season, he has been so good defensively that United is able to play a 4-2-3-1 formation with Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan alongside him in the centre of the park.
The same will likely occur against Bournemouth, except perhaps with Juan Mata or Jesse Lingard instead of Mkhitaryan, and Herrera will be key once again to keep United ticking over, protect the back four from Bournemouth’s best talents, and perhaps come up with a key contribution in front of goal. But if anyone is capable of it, Ander Herrera is likely the man.
Jesse Lingard, Attacking Midfielder, Manchester United
For the first time in months, Jesse Lingard played to his ability at Wembley, scoring an important goal against Southampton in the EFL Cup, and in what seems like no coincidence, celebrating under the lights at Wembley for the third time in three cup finals over the last year. Now, though, Lingard has the chance to carry his form from Wembley to Old Trafford, and one would seriously hope he can do that.
Lingard seems to have vital contributions at the most random moments but is also very erratic as an attacking player- while his work rate is admirable, it isn’t often enough to keep him as a starter for United. He seems to be one of those players who will either continue to be a sideline utility man for United, or everything will click one day and he’ll be a seriously consistent tactical weapon. Either way, he needs to dictate which one will occur, because he seems to disappear during games in which his tactical opponent (opposite left-back, right-back, or defensive midfielder) is playing well.
Junior Stanislas, Winger, AFC Bournemouth
Bournemouth isn’t a side with any outstanding performers. Eddie Howe’s side has very few strengths or weaknesses, instead with a lot of players who are good enough to play in the Premier League, but none that stand out among the best players in the league. Among the brightest of Bournemouth’s talents is Junior Stanislas, who seems to be involved in quite a few goals considering the number of matches he has played.
Stanislas, despite sitting out with a few injuries this season, has four goals and five assists from just 14 Premier League starts and one substitute appearance– not many players are able to get a goal or assist for every two appearances in the bottom half of the Premier League. He obviously has the turn of pace to run at United, and the end-product to be involved in goals.
Jack Wilshere, Central Midfielder, AFC Bournemouth
Perhaps he is finally reaching his potential- Jack Wilshere has been touted as one of the best talents in England since the age of 18, but at Arsenal, squad competition and injuries delayed his progress until a loan to Bournemouth was the only option at age 25. However, with some regular football under his belt, Wilshere certainly stands out on Bournemouth’s team sheet.
I’ve never believed in Wilshere’s ability to be a world-class central midfielder, but in a creative role, he is very well-rounded for the new version of an attacking midfielder- instead of playing behind the striker, these players are often tasked with tracking back and defending nowadays. Wilshere has solid passing, very neat dribbling, and an accurate left foot, and while I don’t believe he has what it takes to make it at Arsenal, he can be Bournemouth’s star, carrying them out of the relegation zone in matches like the one at Old Trafford on Saturday morning.