Are there positives to take from Manchester United's Bournemouth defeat?
Background image: Pete Linforth
They’re back. After Manchester United lost at Dean Court to Bournemouth on a rainy, wind-whipped, South Coast Saturday afternoon, the Love United, Hate Glazers crowd returned en masse to disparage their club on social media.
Never mind that:
- The defeat came in United’s fourth consecutive away match, following three victories.
- Three of the four contests were against Premier League opposition.
- The Red Devils outscored their opponents 6-3 on aggregate over those four games.
Rather than three wins in four matches, the LUHG mob chose to go with three in 16 Premier League games, ignoring that recent trends are more significant than older ones. Rather than note Bournemouth’s goal came against the run of play, with United attempting more shots, intercepting the ball more and forcing a handful of late saves from Aaron Ramsdale as well as hitting the post, they pushed the narrative that Solskjaer’s United has no fight. Nothing is ever good enough.
That isn’t to say United couldn’t or shouldn’t have done better against the Cherries. The numbers prove United were the better team but failed to deliver on their superiority. Bournemouth won out through the strength of will, character, discipline and consistency that comes with experience. United are a young squad who must make mistakes and learn from their failures. Nothing is there for the picking this season. That is the reality.
If you want to criticise Solskjaer for anything, here it is. Tactically, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial played too far apart to be as effective a partnership as they were in recent matches. Despite that width, Bournemouth were the more effective team from the flanks while Nathan Ake and Steve Cook double-teamed Martial. Had Rashford come inside more often, United might have found some joy.
The weather didn’t help. With gusting winds in his face during the first half, David de Gea couldn’t launch anything over the top for Martial, Rashford or Daniel James to chase down. Solskjaer threw Jesse Lingard on in the second half. With the wind at United’s back, the Red Devils’ attack became more direct. Ultimately, however, the finishing was poor.
That said, expecting a young, inexperienced, incomplete squad to be clinical is ridiculous. Growing pains are inevitable. United have dropped too many matches against teams outside the Premier League top six but, if we’re being honest, three wins from four consecutive road games is progress.
Eddie Howe can attest. The Bournemouth manager benefits from his faith in youth. Josh King and Callum Wilson, both 27, have developed into the type of forward tandem Solskjaer expects Martial and Rashford to be. Ryan Fraser  and Philip Billing  stepped in to replace veteran players. Ake is an acknowledged Premier League centre-half at 24.
Because they are where Bournemouth once were, United’s young defence makes mistakes. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was too impatient on King’s strike, sticking a foot in and allowing the Norwegian to turn and finish. Regardless, Solskjaer’s rearguard ranks fifth in the Premier League. Overall, Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire are solutions, not problems. Now, young Brandon Williams is making a case to join them in the starting XI.
In midfield, a player whom Jose Mourinho abandoned was easily United’s best performer on the afternoon. Fred played well on and off the ball. His 86 touches were joint-highest for United alongside Victor Lindelof. He completed three dribbles, again joint-highest, this time with Rashford. The Brazilian also took four shots, one on target, made three key passes and completed 59, most in the squad and more than 88% overall. Defensively, he made three tackles, two clearances, two interceptions and blocked a shot. He also received the makeweight booking when hotheaded Jefferson Lerma initiated a dustup after bundling into Anthony Martial in the Bournemouth box. Among players on either side, only Josh King received a higher grade from WhoScored.
The stats don’t lie. United did more than Bournemouth other than in the goal department and received poorer grades because they failed to manufacture any end product despite their dominance.
Because Solskjaer’s reputation is based on his scoring as a player, the Red Devils’ inability to finish confounds those who think everything should be easy because they are Manchester United fans. They believe the profligacy reveals Ole's limits as a manager rather than any promise.
Impatience rules out any possibility the manager knows what he's doing. A gaffer like Steve Bruce, who was a defender in his playing career, is often criticised for not displaying any attacking acumen. Forwards such as Marco van Basten and Diego Maradona struggled to organise their backlines. To certain fans’ minds, United should already be scoring given the manager they have.
Instead, Solskjaer believes that:
- All the rubble should be cleared before laying a foundation and
- That foundation should be the rearguard.
It's a time-proven approach to team-building even if you don't anticipate a slow-boil from a man who once came on to score four goals in 20 minutes. A talented player doesn't necessarily make a good manager. One who observes the bigger picture more likely will.
As already noted, the United legend's defence is in the top quarter of the league. In addition, his double pivot, featuring Fred and Scott McTominay, impresses even with Paul Pogba missing for an extended period. Logic suggests the Norwegian will look for attacking players in the coming transfer windows. His detractors simply lack the patience to wait.
United’s history with Mourinho and Louis van Gaal already demonstrates no one is going to come along, snap their fingers and make everything right with the club. After decades as the established squad bullying fresh-faced youngsters, United are now taking their medicine. Some people forget, though. The right medicine makes you better.
Solskjaer’s prescription can heal United’s woes but it requires time. Let the man get on with it.