Cherries’ wobbly defence set for tough test at Old Trafford
Sky Sports 1, 12.30pm Saturday
Last weekend Manchester United saw off one south-coast opponent to safeguard their return to next season’s Europa League and they can defeat another as they press their claims for a Champions League place.
With the EFL Cup pocketed thanks to Sunday’s unconvincing 3-2 triumph over Southampton at Wembley, United can be far more relaxed as they seek to overhaul Liverpool and Arsenal for a top-four slot.
Winning games such as this one at home to Bournemouth is a must and United are hard to oppose given the form of both clubs. It was easier to doubt them earlier in the season when they produced decent displays against Burnley, Stoke and West Ham but failed to take their chances.
Since losing at Chelsea in October, however, they are unbeaten in 16 in the league and have won eight of their last 11.
Bournemouth, in contrast, are still awaiting a win in 2017 with just two points from a possible 21. Ten points clear of relegation on New Year’s Day, they arrive at Old Trafford in 14th, just four points above the bottom three.
United are a long way from a finished product but the Cherries are freefalling, conceding far too many goals and seemingly incapable of stopping the rot.
Jose Mourinho’s men, back in league action after four cup ties, are 1-4 shots but a better way of getting with them would be a bet involving goals. United and over 2.5 is an 8-11 chance and 11 of Bournemouth’s last 12 away games have produced three goals or more.
But the Cherries come with a bit of potency themselves so United and both teams to score is preferred at 21-10.
Southampton had few difficulties carving open United at Wembley. Antonio Valencia is pretty much the only member of their back four who is on top of his game and David de Gea continues to bail them out.
In Josh King, Jordan Ibe and Ryan Fraser, Bournemouth have players who can expose United for pace.
They are the top scorers in the bottom half and even allowing for the run they are on, there seems little likelihood of Eddie Howe suddenly adopting a cautious approach.
They won’t see much of the ball at Old Trafford, but when they get it they can be dangerous.
Defensively, however, they have become a liability with two or more goals conceded in ten of their last 11. They’ve kept only six clean sheets this season, three of which came with skipper Simon Francis and Chelsea loanee Nathan Ake at the back.
Neither will be playing in Manchester and 26-goal star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic must be grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of going up against the Cherries.
Mourinho can shuffle his pack after a rare week off and a more influential performance is expected from Juan Mata, whose mind may have been elsewhere during last Sunday’s final following a morning flight back from Spain after a family funeral.
Manchester United to win & both teams to score
2pts 28-13 188Bet
Skipper Simon Francis (hamstring) is out and Jack Wilshere is a doubt. Jordan Ibe has recovered from a knee injury but striker Callum Wilson is still out.
Bournemouth have conceded at least two goals in ten of their last 11 matches