Manchester United completed a routine 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford, to bounce back somewhat from their derby defeat. Romelu Lukaku scored only his third goal in 15 games to win the game for the Red Devils.
Here are some of the major talking points from the game:
#1 Mourinho rotates as festive congestion begins
United have six games in 18 days, a run of a game every three days coming up. Mourinho rotated his lineup accordingly, making four changes from the side that lost to City. The most notable of these were at the back, as Phil Jones made his first appearance since November, and Luke Shaw made his first appearance in the league this season. Scott McTominay also started along the ever-present Nemanja Matic in midfield. Jones looked assured at the back, making a few crucial blocks and interceptions, while Shaw continued to strengthen his case for more regular involvement with another dynamic display at left-back. McTominay had a quiet game, passing well and using his strength to shield the ball at times, as he was shepherded by the more experienced Matic. The performance of his junior players would have pleased Mourinho, as the entire squad will be needed for this gruelling run of fixtures.
#2 United do what is necessary
This wasn’t a vintage United performance by any means. The Red Devils lacked fluency at times, and Bournemouth had a few chances of their own which forced David de Gea into emergency action. In swirling snow, United struggled to create enough chances to put away their visitors from the south coast, with their first decent chance resulting in the goal; Mata’s dinked cross from the left being powered into the top corner by Lukaku. Anthony Martial should have arguably doubled the lead when he sliced over with the goalkeeper beaten, and Marcus Rashford came on and crashed a shot into the crossbar from distance. However, United held on, got the job done and claimed a valuable win in difficult conditions.
#3 Mata may be as crucial as Pogba
The little Spaniard has not started most of United’s recent league games, as Mourinho has gone with the pace of Lingard, Martial or Rashford behind Lukaku. However, Mata offers a speed of thought and sleight of foot that few others in the United squad possess. His wonderful dinked cross was put away by Lukaku; he had also set up the Belgian’s previous league goal with a delightful chip into the box against Newcastle. It is baffling that he plays on the right whenever selected, as his talents are perfectly suited to the #10 role. A United side with Mata playing behind Lukaku, and any two of Martial, Rashford and Lingard on either side would surely possess enough guile, creativity and power to beat most Premier League defences, and on this evidence, he deserves a run in the side.
#4 Mkhitaryan truly out in the cold
There was a time earlier in the season when Henrikh Mkhitaryan would not get out of the team, no matter how badly he played. Now, the Armenian cannot get into the team, or even into the squad. This was the seventh time in eight games that United’s #22 has not made the matchday squad, and it points to a fundamental lack of trust in him by Mourinho. Mkhitaryan had been enduring a horrible run of form when he was last playing, but a lot of it could be attributed to Paul Pogba’s absence; most observers expected him to be back to his best once the Frenchman returned. However, the two have yet to play together since Pogba’s recovery from injury, and it is telling that in a United team crying out for creativity in Pogba’s suspension-induced absence, it is the more artisanal talents of Jesse Lingard which get the nod at #10. A lack of appearances over the packed winter schedule would surely signal the end of Mkhitaryan’s time at Old Trafford, in what will be a sad case of unrealized potential.