The new season has finally arrived and United face a tough trip away to Dean Court against Bournemouth. The last time United travelled down to the South coast they were on the receiving end of a 2-1 defeat courtesy of a wicked gust of wind. Mourinho and his men will be looking to correct that display and stamp their own footprint on this Premier League season.
Manchester United come into the game off the back of a solid 2-1 win against Leicester City in the FA Community Shield, with Lingard and Ibrahimovic getting the goals to give Mourinho his first silverware of his United tenure. The system Mourinho went with against Leicester was billed at the ever so popular 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders behind an attacking trio of Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney, and Jesse Lingard, in reality, however, it’s a standard 4-3-3 with Michael Carrick sitting deep allowing Ander Herrera and Rooney to get forward more, especially when the opponent sits deep like Leicester did on Sunday. This seemed to suit Ander Herrera, after coming on for Carrick, much more than last season where he featured as either the number 10 or as the holding midfielder alongside Carrick, his ability to keep the ball moving and find space was clear to see against Leicester and it provided the attacking composure this side has been crying out for. Herrera will keep his place in the United line-up against Bournemouth but may struggle to retain it once world record signing Paul Pogba is available to play, who is currently suspended.
4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 it doesn’t seem to affect how the two wing-backs are expected to play. Both Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia had fantastic games against Leicester with their runs down either flank providing great back-up to the attackers as well as both keeping Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton quiet for most of the game. Valencia, who is traditionally a winger, has been given the responsibility at right-back over last year’s signing Matteo Darmian because of his attacking qualities. Valencia has suffered his fair share of criticism in the last year or so over his defensive capabilities, he is rarely out-paced but struggles one-on-one which places more pressure on the centre-halves to cover the space in behind. With this weekend in mind, Valencia will be up against either Jordan Ibe recently joined Bournemouth from Liverpool. or former United player Josh King who both offer pace and trickery which will give a real test to his defensive abilities. Jesse Lingard has been a major help defensively for Valencia as he has the engine to get up and down the field all game providing cover and tracking back every time with the opposing left-back, this is likely a key reason in why Lingard has been given the nod over new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who provides a greater attacking threat but will struggle to come back and help Valencia every time. IF Mkhitaryan comes in for Lingard then it would be likely Darmian would also replace Valencia at right-back because the Italian international is a genuine right-back who is happy to stay put defensively.
Bournemouth is coming into the new season with confidence after a good first year in the top flight, finishing 16th but mainly avoiding relegation. Eddie Howe played a 4-5-1 formation for the vast majority of last season with either Josh King, Benik Afobe or Callum Wilson as the lone striker, relying on the counter attack to catch teams like Manchester United out rather than playing the possession game United will adopt on Sunday. The main way Bournemouth will threaten Manchester United on Sunday will be with set-pieces. United looked vulnerable last season and during the pre-season games against corners or free-kicks. Bournemouth scored 15 of their 45 league goals from set plays and it will be a weapon this weekend with Charlie Daniels, Simon Francis and Sylvan Distin providing a threat in the air.
Valencia v Left-Winger
After stressing this battle above I won’t put too much more onto it but whoever plays on that left-hand side for Bournemouth will be relishing the chance to run at Valencia, they won’t give him the opportunity to settle defensively which could be key in how they look to break this United team down. Valencia needs to step up this weekend or he won’t last long with Darmian and Fosu-Mensah both looking for that first team place.
Wilson/Afobe v Bailly and Blind
With Chris Smalling out suspended for the game, it’ll be the defensive pairing of Eric Bailly and Daley Blind who have the task of controlling things from the back and managing either Benik Afobe or Callum Wilson for Bournemouth. Both of the strikers are physical players who use their presence to beat defenders. They’ll struggle to beat Bailly for pace or strength but this is where the partnership will be tested as Blind will need to read the game well and Bailly will need to be the aggressor. If either striker can expose Blind early on, it could spell danger for United.
Rooney v Pugh/Surman
Bournemouth tended to play both Andrew Surman and Marc Pugh as their two holding players and if this trend continues on Sunday, Wayne Rooney will have a difficult job in beating them both and having the time on the ball to make key passes through to the attacking line. Rooney loves to play the “Hollywood passes” sweeping the ball from one side to the other but this season, his link up with Zlatan Ibrahimovic is vitally important to United so Rooney needs to drop these passes and focus on supporting the striker with sensible passes and good runs in behind, something Surman and Pugh will be attempting to stop. With Wayne not being in terrific form going into this game, if Bournemouth silence the captain, United’s attack will be blunted.