Mour­inho: ‘Aw­ful’ United rode luck

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League - CHIEF SPORTS REPORTER By Jeremy Wil­son at Vi­tal­ity Sta­dium

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

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