The much anticipated Premier League has finally begun for Manchester United and new manager Jose Mourinho, as he oversaw a comfortable victory in the South Coast at the Vitality stadium, where the Red Devils were beaten about nine months ago.
In a nutshell, it was a typical Mourinho-style performance and result. Manchester United, were very methodical from the outset and in a good way – in that they knew what they were doing in attack and defence and given the way things went, one wouldn’t believe they had, what was a largely poor pre-season in China just a couple of weeks ago.
To start with, it was quite a surprising lineup from Jose Mourinho – although he went for the tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 with Fellaini and Herrera (as opposed to Carrick and Fellaini in the Community Shield) as his pivot, Mata on the right and Martial on the left with Ibrahimovic leading the line and Rooney in the number ten role. Two of the four signings played a part in the 1-3 win and Mkhitaryan was ‘surprisingly’ on the bench while world record transfer Pogba served his one-match suspension.
Bournemouth started well and understandably so – first game at home against one of the title contenders, they showed they were up for it as early as the third minute when Callum Wilson looked to pounce on a Luke Shaw mistake which was cleared away by the left back himself after a tussle. But the visitors picked up and grew into the game – found spaces as they did, looking to get behind the Cherries’ back four through Martial – who was the only source of pace and directness in that front four. After a couple of attempts from Rooney and Martial, it was Juan Mata who opened the scoring, after capitalizing on Bournemouth skipper’s mistake – to put the ball into the net – opening the account in Jose Mourinho’s era. Someone’s read the script.
The visitors came out pumped in the second half, and enjoyed their best period in the match – with Ibrahimovic creating a brilliant opening for Wayne Rooney – a back heel flick which bypassed the entire back four leaving Rooney through on goal – but Boruc denied the Manchester United captain again with a fantastic reaction save. But Rooney did double his side’s lead scoring his 246th goal for Manchester United, an opportunist’s goal – off Martial’s mistimed shot. But the Red Devils were well worthy of a two-goal lead and they sealed the 3 points when Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s attempt from distance found the net – much to the delight of the away fans and the Portuguese manager. Bournemouth then scored a consolation goal from Smith – but it was too little too late and United saw the rest of the game off without much hassle.
Eric Bailly was awarded Man of the Match and one could say, it was well deserved, given the fact that it was debut – coming from a different and less intense league, it was always going to be difficult. But one performance from the middle of the park, in my opinion, made sure United never lost control of the game, came from the Spanish 27-year old who incidentally celebrated his birthday with a win, in Ander Herrera. Herrera was instrumental in distributing the ball, moving it with the right pace, in the right direction to make sure the visitors controlled the tempo of the match – which is really vital especially in a game away from home – where the home side often tend to see more of the ball.
Herrera influenced the game from a slightly deeper position than he used to play under Van Gaal (in the odd game he started), which suited him quite well – often linking up with Blind when he needed to circulate the ball and Valencia when he wanted the team to move forward. It should not come as a surprise when one finds that Valencia to Herrera (17) and Herrera to Blind (15) were the two highest pass combinations in the visiting side; Herrera linked attack and defence to perfection. Also, the number of times he harried and pressed the Cherries’ midfield – recovering the ball in important moments – seven times in total, at significant areas of the pitch where the defending team is at its most vulnerable.
It’s encouraging that United did not have to get out of their second gear to win a game at a stadium where they lost the previous season. It shows signs of improvement and Jose Mourinho, judging by today’s performance, might have found Herrera a new role in the team which is now facing a healthy competition for places, especially in central midfield. He’s already lifted the morale of the side – won the Community Shield, made huge signings that have excited the fans and most importantly fellow players and now made a bright start.
Even he could not have dreamed of a better re-introduction to the Premier League.