Marcus Rashford struck deep into injury time to give Manchester United a 2-1 win at Bournemouth which, for long periods, they scarcely deserved.
The hosts, unbeaten at the Vitality Stadium before today, took the lead after 11 minutes when Callum Wilson stabbed home his sixth goal of the season and 50th in Bournemouth colours.
Eddie Howe’s side grew in confidence from there and United, unable to hold onto the ball for long enough to get out of their third let alone create anything, were second best by some distance.
However, Anthony Martial levelled up ten minutes before half time – his fifth goal in as many games – and United grew in confidence from there.
The game looked set for a draw until the third minute of stoppage time when Paul Pogba’s cross fell invitingly for Rashford who, having failed to connect initially, lashed home at the second attempt to seal a big three points for José Mourinho’s side.
Call-up Wilson deserves England nod
Wilson’s 11th-minute opener was a significant goal for several reasons. Not only was it his 50th goal in Bournemouth colours, it mean he became the first English player to reach ten goals and assists in the Premier League this season.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 3, 2018
Most of all, though, his timing could not be better. England face the USA and Croatia on November 15 and 18 respectively. Three Lions Gareth Southgate is taking the UEFA Nations League seriously so that friendly against the Stars and Stripes will be a chance to make changes.
One of those should be the inclusion of Wilson. The 26-year-old has never been called up by England but with more Premier League goals than Harry Kane this season (5) it’s now or never for the former Coventry City forward.
Interestingly he creates more big chances per 90 than the Tottenham Hotspur forward – 0.71 vs. Kane’s 0.2 – and provides more open-play key passes – 1.02 vs. 1.0.
With Jamie Vardy retired from international duty there is a spot in the England squad. Wilson deserves his chance to prove he is of international calibre.
Martial the latest to prove José wrong
Having handed Luke Shaw a brand-new five-year deal in the last month Martial’s recent upturn in form must be a bitter pill for Mourinho to swallow. The Portuguese, after all, values being proven right above all else.
Yet in scoring at the Vitality Stadium the much-maligned forward took his tally to five in as many games for Manchester United meaning, along with Shaw, he is one of the few players who can hold his held high at present.
Like Shaw, Mourinho has made 22-year-old a scapegoat on numerous occasions – most notably in the defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion towards the end of last season.
Over the summer it seemed apparent Martial would leave. But now he is one of United’s most important players and even Mourinho is keen on keeping him beyond the end of the season when his current contract expires.
“I know the club wants him very much to stay, so hopefully he is going to stay,” Mourinho said.
“One thing is that he’s a talented player that everybody knows he is – since he was in Monaco, everybody knows he was a talented player,” continued Mourinho.
“Another thing is, a talented player with consistency and understanding of what a football match is in the globality.
“So, when you reach that level or when you are almost reaching that level, it’s when you become a player – what I say, a top player.
“Because one thing is top talent, another is top player.
“So, when he is now much closer to being a top player, obviously I would like him to stay.”
The challenge has been thrown down.
Sánchez proves a point in Lukaku absence
The standout team news ahead of kick-off was Romelu Lukaku‘s exclusion from the visitors’ matchday 18. Mourinho soon quelled any speculation by revealing the big Belgian had ‘felt something’ in training on Friday and was left at home as a precaution.
In his place Alexis Sánchez, who has been subject of even more intense scrutiny, came in for his first Premier League start since the 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers on September 22 and instantly added more dynamism to United’s frontline.
Mourinho has yet to find a home for the Chilean since he joined from Arsenal in January but could he, almost by chance, have found a place for Sánchez up front?
He played there in pre-season – through necessity as much as anything else with Lukaku at the World Cup – but with Martial in flying form on the left of United’s front three he has been benched in recent weeks.
However, moving Sánchez up front will be a panacea for Mourinho; the question will simply become ‘What does Lukaku’s future hold?’
Mourinho not helped by United board
The Special One is unhappy. We’re painfully aware of this. He does not hide his emotions, after all, and has taken every opportunity – subtly or otherwise – to register his discontent at the club’s failure to hand him a new centre-back in the summer.
Yet for all his bellyaching, reverse psychology and mind games in team selection, Mourinho has every right to feel aggrieved.
His central defensive options are not up to scratch and while his refusal to call on Eric Bailly is bizarre – verging on cutting his nose off in spite of his face – United’s steadfast refusal to acquiese to their manager’s request for a world-class centre-back is every bit as baffling.
The visitors were pulled this way and that in the first half an hour and could have been several goals behind by the time they snuck an equaliser through Martial. Chris Smalling did not cover himself in glory on Wilson’s opener – nor did anyone in a United shirt for that matter – but the fact he is continually selected speaks volumes for Mourinho’s defensive options.
Having given the Portuguese a new contract earlier in the year United committed themselves to Mourinho; good and bad, complaints, tantrums, silverware and success. They have failed him.
Howe Aké benefitted from working with Eddie
So good was Nathan Aké during the first half of the 2016/17 season while on loan at Bournemouth that Antonio Conte, the then Chelsea coach, recalled the young Dutchman to Stamford Bridge halfway through his loan spell.
But Aké, who had been similarly impressive on loan at Watford the previous season, scarcely featured making just two top-flight appearances. For the dreadlocked defender it was evident he was never going to get a run in the side in West London and he completed a £20million move to Bournemouth, becoming the Dorset side’s record signing.
Since then he has proven a snip for Eddie Howe’s side, benefitting from working one-to-one with the impressive Bournemouth boss on a daily basis. Howe makes players better and it is testament to him that he has not only done so with those who have journeyed up the divisions with him but an international calibre defender schooled at one of the Premier League’s giants.
Against Manchester United Aké made X interceptions, X tackles and won X of X aerial duels. All while completing XX of XX attempted passes. For his height, just 5ft 11ins, he is deceptively good in the air and his reading of the game is every bit as impressive.
Chelsea might regret letting him go in 2017 but it won’t be long before another top-six club takes advantage.