Bournemouth 2 Man Utd 2: More defensive lapses but Bruno to the rescue – The Briefing

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Manchester United’s underwhelming spell of form continued at Bournemouth on Saturday evening as they drew 2-2 with Andoni Iraola’s side.

The first half had a worryingly familiar flavour as Erik ten Hag’s team turned the ball over on numerous occasions, frequently conceded the initiative to the home side and again allowed their opponents to shoot at will. Two of those shots — from Dominic Solanke and Justin Kluivert — went in, split by a decent effort from Bruno Fernandes at the other end.

The second half did at least see some improvement, with Fernandes scoring his second of the game from the penalty spot after a handball from Adam Smith, but Bournemouth felt they should have been awarded a penalty of their own in stoppage time after a foul on Ryan Christie by Willy Kambwala was deemed to be (just) outside the box.

The result leaves United 10 points off a Champions League spot, with only six games remaining.

Here, The Athletic’s Carl Anka answers some of the key questions from the game.


How much control did United have today?

Five minutes into the game and Ten Hag could be seen throwing up “two-three-two” gestures to his players; it appeared the Dutchman wanted his defenders to better orientate themselves on Andre Onana’s goal kicks as they attempted to play out from the back.

The plan was centred on baiting Bournemouth’s front press towards one flank before hitting a fast one-two and opening up space in behind.

Thirty seconds after Ten Hag’s instruction, Bournemouth manufactured a chance after forcing a turnover from a loose back pass from Kobbie Mainoo to Onana. Harry Maguire had to make a last-ditch tackle to deny Solanke a goal.

It was one of several frustrating sights. A team attempting to carry out a brave, if perhaps overambitious footballing plan, but making foolish mistakes.

It was yet another game where United conceded many shots (12 in the first half, five on target) against a team feasting on the open space Ten Hag’s system allows in midfield. The United manager’s ultimate destination is for this team to be the best transition side in the world, but his players have become lost on the journey. A complete breakdown in communication between Diogo Dalot and Alejandro Garnacho in the 36th minute saw Kluivert come into space in a dangerous area in the final third before casually making the score 2-1.

It is a bewildering experience watching a collection of talented players become so focused on avoiding one form of embarrassment they have no idea of the smaller, more imminent train wreck ahead.

As we’ve outlined here, United’s inability to control games is a design flaw that has been turbocharged by an injury crisis. It is acceptable for United to concede shots in a game, providing those shots are of low quality and United are generating better opportunities of their own. However, United only mustered one shot on target in the first half against Bournemouth, and Iraola’s side were just the latest team to exploit the space behind United’s full-backs to great effect throughout the game.


(Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

In his Friday press conference, Ten Hag urged his team to “go into that fight, have the conviction and need to support each other to win battles, outplay them, outrun them”.

United were found wanting in the majority of important categories.


Where does this result leave United’s season?

Shortly before the half-time whistle, Harry Maguire found himself 35 yards out from Bournemouth’s goal and decided to let fly. It was the sort of speculative effort that is a goal of the season contender if it goes in and just kills time when it doesn’t.

The shot went high and wide and exemplified a leggy and lacking performance from his team.

A handball from Adam Smith and a smartly taken penalty from Fernandes spared some blushes. However, United are a side low in confidence, and suffering from a physical and mental fatigue that sees them make unforced errors in the latter stages of games. This side are frequently turning to its more experienced players to try and conjure something out of nothing, but those players are running on empty.

Fernandes’ brace earned a brace, but the sight of his lime green boots chasing down loose balls with little support will live longer in the memory. The captain’s batteries look to have been depleted and right now he cannot carry the team the way he used to.

Midweek defeats in Europe for Liverpool and West Ham have damaged England’s seasonal UEFA coefficient ranking, meaning United will likely need a fourth rather than fifth-place finish to qualify for the Champions League next season. Such worries now seem beyond Ten Hag. Saturday’s draw with Bournemouth, coupled with Newcastle’s 4-0 victory over Tottenham, leaves his side seventh in the league. Weeks of sideways drift are at risk of turning to outright decline.

An FA Cup semi-final against Coventry City comes next Sunday, followed by matches against Sheffield United and Burnley that may give Ten Hag the opportunity to turn things around, but if Manchester United persist with this topsy-turvy, counter-attacking approach, all games become more coin-toss in nature.


(Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Back-to-back league starts for Willy Kambwala?

A rare unchanged XI for United saw Kambwala make his only third Premier League start. The 19-year-old started 2023-24 sixth in the club’s centre-back hierarchy, but such is the rate and severity of injury at United, he has found himself thrown into the deep end.

Kambwala impressed against Liverpool for his physicality and aggression in one-v-one duels. Against Bournemouth, he found things difficult. Solanke twice shifted the 19-year-old with ease while preparing to deal with a cross in the game’s opening minutes, and the striker’s Premier League experience often proved the difference in their head-to-heads.

Kambwala was definitively caught out in the 15th minute, losing his footing while duelling with Solanke on a noticeably soggy pitch. The striker made the most of the extra space after Kambwala was felled to score with a low, powerful drive into the bottom corner.

It was a minor mistake, punished severely. But these are the margins in Premier League football.

There were promising parts to his game. When United attempted to build from the back, Mainoo dropped deep to be the first receiver while Kambwala would push up down the right channel to serve as a ball carrier when the ball was switched. It was his tackle on Solanke — just past the halfway line — that caused a turnover that led to Fernandes’ equaliser.

It took a VAR intervention in the final moments of the game to spare his blushes after he was initially deemed to have given away a penalty for a foul on Ryan Christie. He was eventually found to have made his foul just outside the box. He had escaped by the finest of margins.

The Frenchman spent much of the game in conversation with Diogo Dalot, who offered words of encouragement and high fives throughout.

Kambwala will make mistakes as he grows from academy graduate to first-team option. He is unlikely to be a starter for United when other centre-backs return to fitness, but he has made himself an option in the here and now.


(Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

What did Erik ten Hag say?

On United’s first half: “There were some points, one thing was Harry Maguire had an issue first half and luckily for us he overcame and recovered from it. You can see the second half he was up there and then he can express his leadership, he can express his defensive qualities and rest on the ball, we especially needed that in this back four. We lost some balls in areas we shouldn’t lose them. If you see the first goal, the set-up was good but in that area, you should never lose the ball but it’s still not a goal”

On what he said at half-time: “I’m very long in football. They were very motivated. But, as I explained, I have to repeat myself — I don’t do that — they were motivated but the organisation wasn’t right, we lost balls where we shouldn’t lose them under pressure from the opponent. Our players are better than this.”

On the pressure to qualify for the Champions League: “We give all we can but I am also realistic. When the full squad was there, we still could have high belief but we will keep fighting also with the players who are available, you see high potential. But also young players make mistakes, if they have to perform every Premier League — they have proved they can compete with the best teams at the highest level — but they have to do it consistently. That’s the next step for young players.”


What next for Man Utd?

Sunday, April 21: Coventry City, FA Cup semi-final, 3.30pm UK, 10.30am ET


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(Header photo: Getty Images)

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