MANCHESTER UNITED vs AFC BOURNEMOUTH
After the debacle of Sundays cancelled game United finished their league campaign with a final home game against AFC Bournemouth. After the weekends results United knew that without an impossible 19-0 result they could not qualify for the Champions League. A draw here however would secure a Europa League place without the need to play a summer qualifying tie.
In: Borthwick-Jackson, Carrick and Lingard.
Out: Rojo, Schnedierlin and Herrera.
- This was a game of two halves. The first half was dire, the second was much better, not great but better.
- In the first half United’s play was poor. There were too many sideways passes, too much caution, passing without purpose. In the first half hour United did not threaten Bournemouth’s goal once. Was this a case of one eye on the cup final or just a typical United performance circa 2015-16?
- In the second half United were more positive, passed the ball quicker and created a number of chances. Even then there was too much square passing, but the tempo of United’s play increased and this enabled a better performance.
- Rooney had an excellent game here. He was everywhere. Even in the first half he played well with most of United’s more threatening moments coming from his long diagonal passes to switch play.
- Valencia had a good second half courtesy of this direct powerful running. His final pass or cross however remains a disappointment far too frequently.
United started this game in fairly lethargic fashion suggesting that they did not feel that a 19-0 score line was achievable. In fact so lethargic were they that in the first fifteen minutes whilst they retained possession easily they struggled to get out of their own half. When they did they invariably lost the ball.
United’s shape was a 4-3-3 with Carrick at the base of a midfield triangle and Mata and Rooney further forward. In effect in the last month or so Van Gaal has turned the triangle around. For most of the season it has been a case of two deep midfield players and a single “number 10” further up the pitch.
United team shape and Rooney, who had a great game
The pattern of the first half performance was typical of many of United’s displays this year. Pass, pass, pass, sideways and across; a continual recycling of the ball which is very successful in controlling the play but doesn’t make a great impression on the opposition. For almost half an hour United failed to threaten the Bournemouth goal leaving Bournemouth’s centre backs untroubled, (the ball never reached their defensive zone). For their part Bournemouth set up as a 4-4-2 with their two banks of four screening their goal. They posed very little threat to United throughout the game and certainly none in the first half. This first half was a very laboured display. That was until about 31 minutes of play when there was a slight improvement which saw Carrick stretch to reach a free kick delivered diagonally from the left. He failed to connect and the ball ran through to the Bournemouth keeper.
The only notable point to make about this first period of the match was the performance of Wayne Rooney. Perhaps as a consequence of United’s early struggles to cross the halfway line Rooney started to drop deep and whenever he did he looked to switch play from deep left to advanced right. Rooney has been doing this a lot of late and it is becoming predictable but it can be effective and United’s better moments came from this. Most usually he found Valencia who tended to double back and recycle the ball inside and behind rather than attacking the space in front of him, (and this tactic did create space), but sometimes he picked out Lingard who instead tended to run inside and into trouble.
It looked like a half-time 0-0, (which would again be typical of a United display this year, especially at Old Trafford), but then two minutes before half-time United scored. This goal was like something from another world. Martial picked up the ball on the left, ran diagonally inside exchanging a one-two with Mata he reached a narrow position close to the bye-line and hit a low deliberate pass across the face of goal which Rashford stepped over allowing Rooney to side foot home from close range. Boom! Amazingly this was a piece of co-ordinated, precise and penetrative passing play in the final third, a complete contrast to the general aimless passing patterns. 1-0 at half time.
At the start of the second half the tempo of United’s passing had increased. In fact it was higher throughout the half. Post-match Van Gaal made the point that United’s second half performance was much better with lots of chances and good goals. All goals are good when you score them of course but this is over stating the matter. United were better in the second half because they passed quicker and this did open Bournemouth up on occasions but not as often as United fans would like.
Rooney continued his pattern of play from the first half, dropping deep and switching play but now Valencia showed much more initiative in attacking the space ahead of him rather than recycling the ball inside. His delivery from the wide areas was still usually poor but he did deliver a few dangerous ball which created chances. He did though almost score. On 55 minutes Carrick hit the bar with a powerful shot which Bournemouth scrambled away for a corner. From the corner the ball was half cleared to Valencia who hit a sharp shot first time which was going in the top corner only for the keeper, Federici, to pull off an excellent save.
This started a period of play where United created several chances via quick passing and crossing with changes of the direction of attack seeming to be too much for Bournemouth. This culminated in United second goal scored by Rashford on 74 minutes when an over hit Rooney cross was nodded down for Rashford to fire home. Boom! 2-0.
These were the only really significant changes in the half though until Van Gaal with the Cup Final no doubt in his thinking began to make substitutions. All of these were personnel based with the overall team shape remaining unchanged. The changing in personnel did however result in one significant change of method late in the game.
The substitutions were Herrera for Mata on 73 minutes, Memphis for Rashford on 79 minutes and Young for Martial on 84 minutes. The significant change in method yielded a goal. United now started to play vertical passes down the middle of the pitch and they got in a couple of times. Suddenly Bournemouth looked exposed. United were also caught off-side a couple of times but from a Rooney vertical pass Young managed to score United’s third goal on 87 minutes. Boom! 3-0.
Unfortunately United then went to sleep and conceded a late goal. Herrera was indecisive and got caught in possession, the ball pinged about the box in an uncontrolled manner before being deflected past De Gea by Smalling, an own goal but enough to deny De Gea a share of the golden gloves. 3-1 and United went level on the fourth placed team on points, missing out on a Champions League place on goal difference.
Despite an improved second half this was a generally disappointing performance, typical of the season. In the first half United controlled the game but simply did not threaten the Bournemouth goal until very late in the half. This was possession without purpose. United have finished 5th on the basis of this result as a consequence of their poor goal difference. This is quite appropriate given that they have only scored 49 league goals, (the 11th lowest total in the league).
The fact that they finished fifth with such a low goals scored total is a consequence of the solidity of their defence and the fact that they only conceded 35 goals, (the joint lowest goals conceded total). It is disappointing then that David de Gea missed out on a share of the golden gloves as a consequence of the late own goal conceded in this game.
But never mind, Wembley here we come.