A new season, same opponents. Manchester United kick off the new Premier League season this weekend, against the team they finished against in May. After a shambolic end to an underwhelming campaign, United will look to use this early rematch to prove their title-winning credentials. Both clubs have had a busy summer. Eddie Howe and Jose Mourinho will hope that big changes to both squads will be enough to make this year an improvement on the last. Attack proved to be the best form of defence for Bournemouth last season as they exceeded expectation by securing a 16th place finish. Despite conceding more goals than any other team besides Aston Villa. Yet Eddie Howe and his men are used to having the odds stacked against them. They proved they are comfortable as underdogs during a pivotal 2015 Christmas period that saw them beat both Manchester United and Chelsea in quick succession.
Manager: Eddie Howe
Eddie Howe enjoyed praise from his peers last season for bringing Bournemouth out of the Championship by playing expansive, attacking football. Yet those who praised his work also doubted the Cherries’ ability to stick to their philosophy and maintain Premier League status. Vindication for Howe arrived when his team finished five points above the relegation zone without discarding their commitment to a particular style of play. At 38, Howe was part of a trend for young, talented British managers that included Gary Monk and Alex Neil. While his contemporaries faltered, Howe emerged from the campaign with his reputation enhanced.
Leading to his consideration for the role of England manager, before Sam Allardyce took the job. Howe did a fantastic job to keep Bournemouth in the Premier league despite huge injury problems. His attacking philosophy meant they let in plenty at the back but were able to score enough goals to see themselves safe before their final match. This term, Howe will hope the contributions of new signings Lewis Cook, Jordan Ibe and Lys Mousset will elevate the Cherries to at least a mid-table finish. An ambitious manager with a progressive attitude, it is unlikely Howe will want to stop there.
Reading 1-1 AFC Bournemouth
AFC Bournemouth 1-0 Cardiff City
AFC Bournemouth 1-1 Valencia
Key Player: Callum Wilson
An impressive Championship season in 2014/15 saw Callum Wilson rack up 20 goals and 13 assists. As a result, expectations were high for the young Englishman making the step up to the Premier League. Unfortunately, a cruel knee injury kept him out of the side for much of the season. With the benefit of a full pre-season, this time, around, the young striker will be hoping to make his presence felt at the highest level. His prolific finishing could prove invaluable to a side hoping to build on survival from last year. Yet his record for assists hints at an unselfish nature and desire to bring others into the game that could benefit new signings such as Jordan Ibe. He is helped, in no small part, by stalwart Charlie Daniels. As a mainstay at left-back for the Cherries, he could eclipse his five assists from last year by the end of this season, should Wilson live up to his potential.
Bournemouth 1-3 Manchester United
With an extra 90 minutes under the belt of many of United’s big hitters, this should prove a tough opening test for the Cherries. Emboldened by his first goal for the club in last Sunday’s Community Shield, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be hoping to build on that in his first Premier League appearance. While he spent long periods of last week’s match drifting in and out of the action, his already high confidence levels will have been boosted by that winning goal. Luke Shaw showed flashes of his old form at Wembley. His pace and tenacity from left-back gave much-needed width to the attack.
Although not exactly the marauding attacking performance many fans had hoped for after Louis van Gaal’s departure, it looked more promising for the season ahead. Saturday’s Premier League opener could also see the debut of world record signing Paul Pogba. With no pre-season behind him, his appearance would likely be a cameo at best. The Cherries’ preference for attacking over defence should give United plenty of opportunities. Though this may also cause a new look back four, with Chris Smalling still absent, some uncomfortable moments. Bournemouth has a habit of upsetting the odds against superior opponents. Yet, with the firepower and renewed optimism around Mourinho’s squad, an early season away win looks promising.