Manchester United successfully recovered from their midweek Champions League defeat against Juventus as they recorded a 2-1 win against Everton in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon. That win put the 20-time English champions above the Toffees into the eighth position in the table ahead of their trip to in-form Bournemouth this weekend.
The French connection worked well as Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial both got on the score sheet. The latter once again proved to be one of the best, if not the best, attacking option of Jose Mourinho’s side. Martial has got a chance because of Mourinho’s decision to axe the struggling Romelu Lukaku from his starting line-up which saw a somehow different United on the pitch.
Still, not for the first time this season, it was a far from convincing performance from United as a late Gylfi Sigurdsson penalty left the hosts with a nervy final fifteen minutes. Ultimately, Everton hadn’t picked their chances as United improved on a miserable run that had brought just one win from their previous seven games.
Benching Lukaku unleashed United’s left side
In my last article ahead of United’s Champions League clash against Juventus, I wrote about two-faced Jose Mourinho and his internal struggles. Against Marco Silva’s side, Mourinho’s men started to attack from the beginning of the match instead of waiting to concede and finding themselves in an inferior position. The only change from the Juventus defeat was the inclusion of Fred.
Mourinho left out an out-of-form Romelu Lukaku, who has gone over 800 minutes without scoring, as he wanted to “protect him” from his lack of confidence. This change gave Marcus Rashford a chance in a center-forward role, and Juan Mata moved to the right, making room for Fred as a central-midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation.
With no Lukaku to drop deep into Pogba’s area of play, the French midfielder had a license to roam and was a focal point of all United’s attacks. Pogba proved he is most comfortable playing in a left central midfield position from where he can drift into the wide areas. Most of United’s actions in the game against Everton came from their left side, as Anthony Martial was key to their success.
United’s French connection was far too good for Everton’s right back, Seamus Coleman, who was constantly targeted by United players. Martial did what he does the best on the left flank as he dribbled and made decent runs in the half-space while Pogba supported him.
A great addition to Pogba and Martial’s combinations on the left was Luke Shaw who frequently bombed forward making Everton’s defenders more uncomfortable. United without Lukaku was more mobile and pacy and Mourinho could say he got the best from Pogba since he’s still struggling to get him working in the right position on the pitch.
Bournemouth is levels above Everton and a far bigger test for sloppy United
All in all, United’s performance against Everton could be labeled as one of the better performances this season. Still, it is not even close to their expectations as they continue to be very sloppy. The win against Everton must be quickly forgotten because Mourinho and his men are traveling to the smallest Premier League stadium this weekend.
It’s Bournemouth, one of the biggest surprises this season. Eddie Howe’s side is sitting sixth in the league table, six points behind Manchester City and only one behind Tottenham and the last European qualification place. The fact Manchester United’s eventual win on Saturday will lift them level on points with the Cherries is enough to conclude they’re grave in their minds.
In other circumstances, this game would be a walk in the park for United, at least on paper. But it is not a case anymore. There are several reasons why Manchester United must be aware of Bournemouth’s strengths. One of them is the fact they’ve outscored every team outside the top four this season. This proves Eddie Howe’s side has matured over the years and are finally ready to step to a higher level than in previous seasons.
The Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser pairing is a wet dream for every FPL player out there and if you add Joshua King to that, they start to look perilous. There’s also in-form David Brooks. The 21-year-old youngster has three goals in his last three games and is certainly on the rise.
Only Chelsea and Manchester City have produced more expected goals (xG) this season in the Premier league than Bournemouth which adds weight to their excellent form. Per Twelve’s data, they’re currently averaging the highest quality shots which can be a deadly mismatch in comparison to United averaging the highest quality shots against in the Premier League.
A crucial point in the season for both teams
Bournemouth have every right to hope the recent crisis which has rocked United will be enough to give them an edge in Saturday’s match which is set to test them to their very limits. On the other hand, United would be hoping that their win against Everton is a sign of better things to come as they start their chase to catch those at the business end of the table.
This match could prove to be a crucial point in the season for both teams, and it will be intriguing to see how it all turns out.