Manchester United 1-0 AFC Bournemouth: Tactical Review


Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Valencia; Jones, Smalling, Shaw; McTominay, Matic; Mata. Lingard, Martial; Lukaku

AFC Bournemouth (4-4-1-1): Begovic; Smith, Francis, Ake, Daniels; Stanislas, Gosling, Arter, Fraser; King; Wilson

Jose Mourinho rotated his lineup ahead of the taxing festive fixture schedule. Luke Shaw came in at left-back to make his first league start of the season, while Phil Jones returned from injury to play alongside Chris Smalling. Scott McTominay made his first league start as well, partnering Nemanja Matic in midfield, while Juan Mata started in the bank of attackers behind Romelu Lukaku.

Eddie Howe made three changes to the side that drew against Palace, with Dan Gosling and Harry Arter replacing Lewis Cook and Andrew Surman in midfield. Callum Wilson started up front, instead of the 36-year old Jermain Defoe.

Major tactical themes:

Jesse Lingard’s off the ball movement vital

Jesse Lingard has been getting a run in the side of late, starting as the #10 in most games. While he does not possess the requisite quality on the ball to be a top-class playmaker, he brings other attributes to the role: his ability to dribble past players as well as his superb movement off the ball. This was in evidence here as well. Lingard would often drop deep to collect the ball, dragging a Bournemouth player with him, which would open up space for Anthony Martial or Juan Mata to come inside. He was also not shy of making runs in behind the defence, using his pace to stretch the Cherries’ backline, while at times he would drift wide to combine with the wide players or fullbacks. Lingard is also one of the first ones to press the opposition; his effectiveness at this was evident in the 3-1 defeat of Arsenal two weeks ago. While he wasn’t good enough with the ball at his feet, losing possession on multiple occasions, his work off the ball remains exemplary. This is a rare case of a #10 playing because of his quality off the ball, and it may be key in some of the bigger games this season.

Note how Lingard’s positioning here has dragged a Bournemouth player towards him, potentially opening up space for Mata or Martial to exploit

Mata needs to play more often

Juan Mata has found himself out of the side in recent games, as Mourinho has gone for the pace and power of Rashford, Martial and Lingard behind Lukaku. He started this game, and was one of its most influential players, setting up Lukaku’s goal with a delightful cross to the far post. Only nominally playing on the right, Mata kept popping up all over the pitch, as is evident from the fact that his cross came when he was on the left-hand side of the pitch. Mata dovetailed quite well with Lingard; the duo’s movement often structured to create overloads in wider areas. While there are calls for the Spaniard to play more often, and especially in his favoured #10 role, a roaming brief like the one seen against Bournemouth, allied with an intelligent player like Lingard beside him, is good enough to bring the best out of him.

Mata and Lingard are both wide on the left here, creating an overload alongside Martial


This is the aftermath of a flick on from Lukaku to Mata; Lingard and Mata interplay before Lingard goes down the right, with Mata going central

Bournemouth’s approach almost pays off

Eddie Howe’s side started with an old-fashioned 4-4-2, as they have for much of this campaign. Josh King would drop off, while Callum Wilson was running the channels, trying to get into the space between the centre-back and full-back. He sucked Jones in on one occasion, turning him before running into space, but the defender managed to block his attempted cross. Nevertheless, Bournemouth’s system was causing United problems. King would often drift to the flanks, taking advantage of the space both Valencia and Shaw left when they attacked, or drop into the hole between United’s central midfielders and centrebacks. One of Smalling or Jones would pick him up, leaving the other to deal with Wilson. Defensively, Bournemouth would drop deep, two banks of four screening their box, while the two strikers would look to cut off passes into central areas. Bournemouth did manage to limit United to only two shots on target, and came extremely close to going back with a point or even more.

King has drifted out to the left here, with Fraser going central. Wilson has ghosted into the space between Shaw and Jones on the far side, while Charlie Daniels has a lot of room to run into on the overlap


Bournemouth’s defensive shape leaves Smalling with limited passing options; to his partner Jones, or out to the left towards Shaw. Central passing options are blocked off, unless a long ball towards Lingard works

United’s direct approach works

As early as the third minute of the game, Scott McTominay lofted a pass behind the Bournemouth defence for Mata to chase. While that particular attack came to nothing, it exemplified how United could break down Bournemouth. With the Cherries’ midfield compact and narrow, the obvious areas to exploit were down the flanks. David de Gea would often find Romelu Lukaku from his goal-kicks in the right-hand channel, and the Belgian flicked the ball on for Mata twice in quick succession in the first half. At another time, just before the goal, Jones played a fabulous ball out to Lingard on the left, who sadly could not replicate that quality with his own delivery. The goal also came when Mata crossed from the left for Lukaku to head home; United’s work down the flanks was key to them winning this game.