For all that is plaguing Manchester United at the moment, they seem to have mastered one trick at least – that of the late comeback. United came back from a half-time deficit to win 2-1 at Bournemouth on Saturday, to go with similar comebacks against Newcastle and Chelsea. However, this is perhaps the only similarity with the Ferguson era at Old Trafford, as the Red Devils struggle to impose themselves on games they should be winning comfortably. Bournemouth were superb in the first half, aided by a shambolic performance from United, and will rue the fact that they went into the break on level terms after Anthony Martial’s equaliser. Jose Mourinho admitted as much, stating that he felt like “the luckiest manager in the Premier League” at half-time, and a slight tactical tweak, along with the introduction of Ander Herrera, helped to swing the game in United’s favour.
Eddie Howe’s side lined up in their now-standard 4-4-1-1 shape, with David Brooks playing off Callum Wilson in the absence of Joshua King. This brought Junior Stanislas into the side, with Adam Smith playing at left-back in light of Charlie Daniels’ injury problems.
Romelu Lukaku did not even make the trip down to the coast, as he had pulled up with an injury in training prior to the game. Alexis Sanchez was thus played as the striker, with Anthony Martial and Juan Mata either side of him. The rest of the side was as expected; Fred being rewarded for a couple of encouraging displays with a run in the side.
Matic left chasing shadows
Nemanja Matic’s arrival at Old Trafford last season was supposed to be the catalyst that would unlock Paul Pogba’s potential, much in the same way that Fred was expected to do this season. Needless to say, neither of them have lived up to those expectations so far, but nevertheless, Matic, at his best, is a superb defensive midfielder, breaking up opposition moves with aplomb before quickly getting his side onto the attack with short, snappy passes. On current form, however, the Serb is a liability, as he offers nothing in defence or attack. His numbers so far this season in terms of tackles and interceptions are the worst of his career, and he tends to slow down the game when on the ball, taking two or three touches before passing when one used to be sufficient earlier. Bournemouth exploited the space in between United’s defence and midfield excellently in the first half, and this was in no small part down to Matic’s inability to cope with David Brooks’ movement, or indeed, the runs of Stanislas and Fraser into the half-spaces.
United’s supposed shielding midfielder made just two tackles, one interception and one clearance on Saturday, and it increasingly looks like one of Mourinho’s favourites needs to be given a respite.
Juan Mata had been crucial to United’s previous comebacks against Chelsea and Newcastle, and it looked like he had nailed down a spot in Mourinho’s team for now. However, this was one of his poorest displays in recent memory, as he failed to influence proceedings at all, and was partly at fault for Bournemouth’s goal.
As the touch map below shows, Mata had just 29 touches of the ball in his time on the Dean Court pitch, and very few of these were in threatening areas. The fact that United improved massively once he was taken off speaks volumes, and he may once again face a spell on the sidelines, especially with two big games against Juventus and Manchester City coming up.
Tactical tweaks allow United to control proceedings
The first half saw the Cherries carve out several opportunities, but a combination of poor finishing and last-gasp defending kept them down to just one goal scored. At the other end, however, they were utterly dominant, with United failing to make significant inroads until Martial’s equaliser in the 35th minute. Bournemouth‘s shape had a lot to do with this, as shown below.
In fact, the one time United managed to isolate a Bournemouth full-back, they ended up scoring.
The second half saw United push on higher up the pitch, especially once Ander Herrera replaced Fred. He played as part of a de-facto double pivot with Matic, allowing Pogba to get further up the pitch to good effect.
This, plus Jesse Lingard’s introduction meant that United now suddenly had a numerical advantage in the centre, essentially playing in a 4-2-2-2 shape, which allowed them to play around Bournemouth’s press and get the ball in threatening areas.
United once again took a while to get going, only finding their mojo in the second half to claim a crucial away win. Bournemouth were excellent, especially in the first half, and should really have put the game to bed as a contest in that time. While tactical alterations allowed United to get back into the game, their inability to impose themselves on games from the start is a worrying trend and could be extremely costly in their next two games, against Juventus and Manchester City.