Mourinho: ‘Awful’ United rode luck
As Jose Mourinho and Eddie Howe shook hands here after a dramatic finale, there was a short pause while the Manchester United manager delivered what he regarded as a friendly compliment: “I told him it should have been 5-1 at half-time. First half was a disaster for us. He knows that I recognise they were by far the better team.”
Mourinho also later described himself as the Premier League’s luckiest manager to have got through such an “awful” opening 45 minutes with the match still level at 1-1. Such candour was refreshing, even if it was probably just about the last thing Howe wanted to hear moments after Marcus Rashford hit United’s winner in added time.
Whatever questions this performance raises about United’s wider progress under Mourinho, a valuable ability to fashion late goals and win ugly persists. The bare facts are also that United have collected 10 points from their last four league games and are again back in touching distance of the Premier League’s top four.
It should all lift morale ahead of huge looming tests in the space of five days at Juventus in the Champions League and Manchester City in the Premier League. It goes without saying, however, that there will have to be a dramatic improvement in the team’s basic all-round level for the upturn to persist against two of Europe’s best teams.
Bournemouth completely outplayed United for long periods and, although Mourinho’s team did ultimately finish strongest in what he called a “traditional game of two halves”, you could still see why they remain behind Howe’s team in the league table. It is extraordinary also to remember that only a transformative decade ago, United were champions of England and Europe, and Bournemouth were facing the prospect of falling out of League Two and perhaps existence.
They had been unbeaten at home in nine league and cup matches since losing 2-0 against United in the corresponding fixture last season, and their improvement even in the intervening months was immediately evident.
David Brooks, Junior Stanislas and Ryan Fraser started behind Callum Wilson in the four attacking positions, and their pace, movement, fluidity and interchanging had United reeling. A mistake by Chris Smalling gifted Fraser the first chance, but not for the first time, David de Gea came to his team’s rescue as the shot cannoned off the Spain goalkeeper’s legs. Mourinho felt that the mistake “triggered instability” and admitted that what followed made it look as if United had not been trained tactically during the week.
Howe naturally saw it differently and felt Bournemouth may have produced their best passage of play since their 2015 Premier League promotion. His team seemed to be targeting United’s left flank where both Stanislas and Wilson were especially troubling Luke Shaw, and Bournemouth’s goal followed an excellent reverse pass by Lewis Cook into space in that area.
Stanislas had sprinted down the byline and Wilson evaded both Smalling and Victor Lindelof to guide an accurate cross past De Gea with his left foot. Adam Smith, adding to Bournemouth’s attacking options from leftback, then had another shot flash narrowly past De Gea’s left-hand post.
United’s midfield three – Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Fred – were having a negligible influence as Bournemouth continued to press their visitors back. Indeed, Matic was attracting most attention for a decision to be their only player without a poppy on his shirt. Fraser forced another save from De Gea, while Wilson’s strength and skill almost created another excellent chance.
With Romelu Lukaku out with a muscle or tendon injury that threatens his participation on Wednesday against Juventus, Alexis Sanchez led the attack, and it was a combination of his vision and battling qualities that created United’s equaliser. He won the ball in central midfield and, after his pass was returned by Ashley Young, delivered a perfectly weighted cross for Anthony
Martial to wrong-foot goalkeeper Asmir Begovic with his finish, his fifth goal in his last four United games.
The second half began more evenly before United established dominance, culminating with them almost scoring three times in one extraordinary passage of play. Young’s free-kick beat Begovic but cannoned off the bar to the feet of Rashford. His goalbound shot was blocked before Pogba’s attempted finish was cleared off the goal-line by Brooks. United substitute Ander Herrera later also had a shot float narrowly wide before Nathan Ake dispossessed Rashford as he sprinted clear on goal.
There were further chances – Brooks for Bournemouth and then Jesse Lingard for United – before what was a 92nd-minute winner.
Pogba had done well to create space to cross, and with Ake missing his header, Rashford calmly brought the ball under control and finished past Begovic. The turnaround was complete.
“This team has the face and heart of a fantastic character. They keep going until the end,” said Mourinho.
Just in time: Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring Manchester United’s late winner