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What We Learned: AFC Bournemouth 1-3 Manchester United – Premier League 2016/17

Manchester United cruised to a 3-1 victory away at Bournemouth to exact revenge after losing last year. There were some incredible moments for United’s new and old players, some fighting for their futures at the club and some new arrivals. Goals from Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney were sweetened by a peach of a goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to seal the match after 65 minutes. There was a lot on show from United, and as preparation turns for United’s match against Southampton, here are some of the main takeaways.

United is proving themselves in midfield

United’s midfield woes in the latter years of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure were addressed by the arrival of Marouane Fellaini under David Moyes. The next year, Moyes helped Louis van Gaal add Ander Herrera to the squad. Herrera’s performance included buzzing passes forward, the long pass that eventually set up Mata’s goal and an excellent through ball to put Antonio Valencia free in the box. Herrera has played better matches for United, but it was refreshing to see him in this type of form on his birthday.

Fellaini, on the other hand, was excellent as the deepest midfielder for United. He completed six tackles and moved around the pitch effectively, with flawless positioning that allowed him to win the ball and drives forward with excellent effect. He was sharp, his passing was surprisingly crisp and he proved that he does have a place in United’s squad. With Michael Carrick proving himself over 10 years and Morgan Schneiderlin as United’s best midfielder last year, United looks set for a great year in midfield with the arrival of Paul Pogba.

United’s squad depth is promising

With Paul Pogba suspended Schneiderlin and Henrikh Mkhitaryan still finding fitness and Chris Smalling suspended, expectations weren’t high for United, but the replacements for these four players delivered immensely. Herrera, as aforementioned, played well in Pogba’s absence, while Mata took his goal in fine fashion. Jesse Lingard was out after his great performance and injury in the Community Shield. Eric Bailly and Daley Blind were the best players on the pitch during this match.

United goes into the season with the promise of Carrick, Pogba, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Fellaini and even Daley Blind for two midfield roles- perhaps if Rooney’s form continues sloping downwards a switch to 4-3-3 is on the cards. Meanwhile, in attacking midfield, Mata, Rooney, Martial, Mkhitaryan and Lingard all have a claim to a place in the side against Southampton, if fit. Memphis looked far better than usual in his brief cameo. United also has three centre-backs who look very good so far- it would be harsh to see Bailly or Blind replaced against Southampton.

United also has a lot of players who showed a lot of promise last season. Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian are yet to hit their best at United, but the signs were all there and they weren’t needed to claim victory today. Perhaps Phil Jones could find his chance in a settled United side, and the same goes for Marcos Rojo, though I would rather see Axel Tuanzebe and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, respectively. Timothy Fosu-Mensah could start for this United side by the end of this season if he gets his chance. Jose Mourinho has built a squad to win the league, and all the pieces seem to be coming into place the way he imagined.

Ibrahimovic is spectacular, but Rashford needs room

Today’s match showed the importance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in any success United has this season. However, last season we learned how much joy United could have if Marcus Rashford was on the pitch. It is important to remember that, in the long-term, Rashford’s development is more important. Over 60 potential games, it would be good to see Rashford play 20 this year, plus 20 substitute appearances. He is also part of the long list of players who have a legitimate claim to a place in attacking midfield, which is why it wouldn’t surprise me to see Mourinho try and sell fan-favourite Ashley Young.

United’s performance wasn’t spectacular, but it was definitely promising. Next up, United comes up against Claude Puel’s Southampton side, and that will be followed by a trip to Hull City to play against formerly United’s Mike Phelan and his hampered Tigers (who did excellently to beat Leicester). None of these matches will be easy, but such is the nature of the Premier League and Mourinho needs to be targeting nine points before United hosts Manchester City at Old Trafford.

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