If you have a friend who is a Manchester United fan, then by now they’ve certainly made sure you’re aware that the Red Devils defeated Bournemouth on the opening weekend of the Premier League season. It only took one game for Jose Mourinho to get Manchester United fans back on their high horses. It may have only been one win against Bournemouth but they may as well be delivering the Premier League trophy back to it’s rightful place in the Old Trafford trophy cabinet at this point.
What’s that saying? You can’t lose the title in August but you certainly can win it? I’m sure it goes something like that.
Manchester United’s 3-1 win over Bournemouth wasn’t pretty – at all actually. However it did provide more than a few very encouraging signs for United fans and gave them plenty of reason to get their swagger back.
Jose Mourinho has said that it will take some time for the players to fully take hold of his philosophy and get away from the style of their “previous manager.” That was certainly evident in the first half against Bournemouth as there was plenty of Louis van Gaal’s ‘philosophy’ on display in their performance.
Time and time again United held up the ball, choosing to play safe square passes instead of taking on defenders or playing a daring run into the box. Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was brought in to address United’s big time lack of goals last season, spent the entire first half dropping deeper to try and find the ball. If he wasn’t dropping deep he was wandering around the field. In fact the only place he wasn’t was the opponents penalty area. Ibrahimovic touched the ball just 19 times in the first half, none of them inside the area.
The second half was a different story, but not as different as you might think. United did score two goals in the second half, but neither of them were that impressive. Captain Wayne Rooney scored his first goal of the season but that came when Anthony Martial mis-hit a shot when he tried to hit it with his first touch.
The attack was better than it has been but it still has a lot of room to improve. The last five minutes looked just like the every United game over the last two years – pinned in their own box and relying on David de Gea to make a fantastic save to preserve the result. The only difference was this time United had a two goal lead as opposed to last year when the result of the game was always in the balance.
The key to United’s attack, as it’s been for the last 12 years, is Wayne Rooney. It’s nothing new for United fans to see Wayne Rooney dropping very deep to pick up the ball. The key for United’s attack is what Rooney does once he gets the ball.
Back in the Sir Alex Ferguson days when Rooney picked up the ball his actions were swift. He either looked to turn and get the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo, Ji-Sung Park, or Ryan Giggs on the wing, or he’d turn and start running up the field himself. Perhaps the most personified element of the Louis van Gaal era has been how Wayne Rooney now reacts when he gets the ball in the middle of the park.
Gone are the days where Rooney immediately looks to turn and go. Instead Van Gaal wanted him to hold up the ball, play it square to the wings and work it up the field slowly. Under Mourinho, Rooney will once again have the freedom to turn and launch a counter attack, but Sunday against Bournemouth we still saw Rooney playing square balls and slowing down obvious counter attacking opportunities. If Mourinho can beat that out of him, this will become a far more dangerous United team.
If Jose Mourinho can bring back the Sir Alex Ferguson Wayne Rooney who looks to attack as soon as he gets the ball I'll love him forever
— Pauly Kwestel (@pkwestelWFAN) August 14, 2016
There are plenty of bright spots to take from Sunday’s win. Last season United finished with 66 points. 20 of those came against Leicester City, Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea. What cost United a shot at the top four, and possibly the title, was all the dropped points against clubs in the bottom of the table.
As we saw on Sunday, with Jose Mourinho in charge, United will get the three points in those matches, even if they largely play Van Gaal ball like they did against Bournemouth. That makes them a very dangerous team, and the title is theirs to lose.