Bournemouth 1 Manchester United 3. A routine win for Jose Mourinho’s side as they start the new campaign with a good performance on the south coast.
Jose Mourinho made two changes from the Community Shield, with Ander Herrera and Juan Mata replacing Michael Carrick and Jesse Lingard. The latter unable to recover from an injury sustained at Wembley last week.
The first half was a tepid contest. Both sides kept the ball well in different spells but neither created many real chances in a game that lacked penetration in midfield areas. Manchester United lined up in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation but it was Juan Mata’s inclusion that changed the dynamic of their attacking shape. Not a natural winger, Mata is always likely to drift into central areas to get on the ball in order to influence attacking situations.
Mata’s inside movement created a lopsided team shape with an overload in central positions but generated plenty of space on United’s right-hand side. Antonio Valencia, selected again at right back, was always willing to move forward to support each attack and became United’s biggest outlet, particularly in the first half.
One of Manchester United’s biggest problems this afternoon was breaking the opposition lines. Although they managed to score three times, the goals helped to mask United’s lack of creativity in central areas and penetration through the defensive structure of the opposition. That problem should be eased by the introduction of Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but against Bournemouth, the role of creator-in-chief fell to Wayne Rooney in the no.10 role.
Modern football has placed an ever-increasing level of importance on the no.10 role, particularly in terms of creativity and as a goal threat. Viewed as central to everything, in this position Rooney should be able to break the lines of the opposition with both his running and his passing ability. Unfortunately, he regularly fails to be this creative hub the position and the team needs him to be. His passing map shows few passes that actually went forward in the final third, none that found a teammate in the opposition penalty area but plenty that went wide to United’s right flank. While this highlights United’s desire to utilise the outlet created by Antonio Valencia, it also highlights Rooney’s inability to contribute positively enough to attacking situations despite being selected in such a prominent attacking position.
As the game wore on, Manchester United did take greater control of the game. They scored twice more through Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic but the problems from the first half remained. United’s second came through Antonio Valencia’s persistence and pace down the right-hand side, while the third was created out of nothing; a burst of pace from Martial, collected by Ibrahimovic and rifled in from distance by the Swedish striker. United were in a comfortable lead but were yet to really impose the dominant, aggressive style of play in the final third that Mourinho had made clear would be the modus operandi this season.
Rooney continued to struggle in the second half. He scored, yes, but he became less influential throughout the afternoon. As space opened up for United and chances became more apparent on the counter-attack, Rooney’s involvement in attacking areas waned.
Manchester United created four chances in the second half, and though he scored the second goal, Rooney was not involved in creating a single chance against Bournemouth. Ibrahimovic created two, Martial one and Valencia the other. Instead, Rooney dropped deeper and deeper and his involvement became more and more peripheral. By dropping into such deep positions he creates instability within the team shape and negatively impacts the balance of the side going forward.
Still, United won. It is important not to focus too heavily on the negatives given that United have started the new campaign with three points and appeared to be relatively comfortable throughout the 90 minutes. The positives far outweigh the negatives, but there are question marks surrounding the composition of Jose Mourinho’s midfield. When Pogba returns and Lingard is fit, where does Rooney play? Does the captain even warrant a starting position? Where does Mkhitaryan fit into this set-up? Mourinho has options, he has points on the board and he will now have a greater understanding of his side’s weaknesses. All in all, not a bad start to the new Premier League season.