Tis’ the season for giving… and United did.
A look at the final score line might have indicated that this was another performance that was as listless as against Newcastle United or Manchester City this season. But in truth, United’s effort was there unlike previous defeats and they were largely the dominant side on the ball for most of the game especially after the second half leading up to conceding the second goal.
Antony, Sergio Reguilon, Alejandro Garnacho and Bruno Fernandes all sprayed passes, ran at Bournemouth and pressed them relentlessly in search of a goal but the final finishing touch never came and for all their ball movement and efforts, ultimately Neto was never troubled in Bournemouth’s goal.
The issue came critically from the another aspect of the team: defending and their play on the ball in their own defensive half.
United looked horribly exposed and were caught outnumbered repeatedly when Bournemouth won the ball back as they struggled to deal with the physicality Andoni Iraola’s side brought on the night. Too many midfielders were committed forward, as has often been the case with Ten Hag’s system this season, leaving gaps in midfield and the away side duly exploited this.
Bournemouth’s opener came through a calamity of errors with Fernandes playing an ambitious ball to Scott McTominay who failed to anticipate the pass and made a flimsy attempt at winning the ball only to be beaten to it by a more willing Lewis Cook who then easily ran past Sofyan Amrabat to send a low cross which Dominic Solanke cutely finished.
Luke Shaw, who is usually comfortable against the press, was targeted and gave the ball away numerous times when on the ball and without it, struggled against the physical play of the bigger bodied Solanke. His night was punctuated by his pass which gave the ball back to Bournemouth leading to their second goal which Philip Biling rose over him to head past Andre Onana.
United then produced their final gift for Bournemouth on the night to allow a free Marcos Senesi to head home from a corner to a stunned Old Trafford crowd.
United might have held more of the ball and dominated most of general play leading up to Bournemouth’s second but it was the visitors who looked more clinical and sharp when they did attack.
Perhaps United will reflect upon this game and do well to recall the old adage that it is more important to work smarter and not just harder. All their efforts on the ball count for naught when the ball is given away cheaply and when they make critical errors in defending corners that would not be expected at even the youth level.