After the highs of securing a memorable derby win at the Etihad (7 April) Manchester United have come crashing back to earth. The Red Devils fell to bottom of the league West Bromwich Albion last Sunday (14 April); to add insult, United’s loss on home ground at Old Trafford also handed their bitterest rivals, Manchester City, the league title for 2018.
PL midweek matchup: United at Bournemouth
The opponent today for Jose Mourinho’s squad are AFC Bournemouth. The Cherries are comfortably placed in the league. Just below the top half with 38 points in total, Eddie Howe has weathered some tough periods to find themselves in a less perilous position at this stage of the season when teams with bigger budgets and better squads are scraping it out to survive in the division.
Bournemouth have benefited from a lack of pressure coming from the bottom sides; those clubs presently engrossed in their own relegation battle and who’ve managed to stay lower mid-table despite winning only 9 games all season. But the teams above Bournemouth—Newcastle and Everton—are so close that there is still a slim chance for the South Coast club to break into the top half and achieve their highest ever finish in the top flight.
Can United recover and refocus?
Manchester United simply embarrassed themselves on Sunday; exposing their tendency to becoming a “toothless” side at times. It’s a propensity which has plagued the club all year long. Perhaps fittingly, this time it served to hand the league title to their rivals who have by contrast been utterly consistent and compelling.
With the only meaningful game being the cup semi final against Spurs in the weekend, it is understandable if United field a weakened team in midweek. They could not be faulted too much for holding back, in a bid to go all in at Wembley. The latter is a stadium in which they have had some success over the last three years. But at the same time, Mourinho simply cannot afford to slip any further below in the league table which would mean less of an improvement and more work to do in the Summer.
Home side Bournemouth’s star striker Callum Wilson should return to the starting XI after only making the bench against Liverpool on Saturday. Adam Smith and Junior Stanislas are injury concerns for the hosts, while full-back Tyrone Mings lack match fitness.
Sergio Romero should be the only injury concern for Manchester United when they make the trip to Bournemouth on Wednesday night.
Eleven of AFC Bournemouth’s last 12 Premier League home goals have come in the second half, while Manchester United’s last 10 away goals have also come after half-time.
Both teams have found the net in four of the last five PL meetings between them, with Man Utd’s 1-0 win in December the only time a team have kept a clean sheet during the same spell.
Key Men Comparison
Callum Wilson (AFC Bournemouth) v Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
The two top scorers for either side —Callum Wilson for the Cherries and Lukaku for the Reds—will be crucial once again in a game that is not expected to see a lot of goals. United will be keen to get away from the Vitality Stadium without key injuries in order to prepare themselves the best they can for the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur.
Romelu Lukaku has scored and assisted a combined total of 22 goals but still he has not the league alight with his form as the Belgian often suffered long patches of games where he failed to positively influence results for United.
With the arrival of Alexis Sanchez United’s general form has improved going forward and Lukaku has managed to get goals against the best sides in the league, something the 24 year old struggled to do at the start of the season. Wilson, on the other hand has a terrific eye for goal and United’s lacklustre defending at the back on Sunday should be an eye opener for him as the 26-years old will be chomping at bits to open his account against Manchester United.
A cautious game with plenty of half-chances for either side to go begging.
AFC Bournemouth 1-1 Manchester United