Monday 26 September 2016

United lay down a marker with ruthless display

Bournemouth 1 Man Utd 3

Jason Burt

Published 15/08/2016 | 02:30

Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaps with delight after scoring on his league debut. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaps with delight after scoring on his league debut. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

This felt like one of those big statements that big teams with big players and managers make at the start of big seasons and, after the final whistle, the visiting Manchester United fans finally allowed themselves to chant it.

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"United are back," they sang. "United are back." They have been waiting some time to unleash that one.

Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini in action with Bournemouth's Lewis Grabban. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters
Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini in action with Bournemouth's Lewis Grabban. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

There were signals all around - and not least in the behaviour of new manager Jose Mourinho, who allowed himself an uncontrolled touchline roar of "come on" when Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the third goal. It was yet another for the striker who has conquered Europe and has now struck on his league debuts for United, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Barcelona and Paris St-Germain. Then there was Mourinho's fist-pump to the crowd when the contest ended.

Mourinho is trying to gain momentum and regain belief, confidence and justification at United - and there is a reference point. Just two years ago, Mourinho took Chelsea to Burnley on the opening day and laid down a marker by winning by the same scoreline before going on to recapture the title.

United are a long way short of providing that kind of compelling evidence just yet, but their rate of progress is beginning to increase dramatically. They have match-winners - not least in Ibrahimovic, but also by getting Wayne Rooney closer to goal. With Paul Pogba, suspended for this fixture, to come, they will always have a chance.

The club has made a big statement in putting faith in Mourinho and he is repaying that by rebuilding them. He also received one of those Midas moments when the substitute he took off during last Sunday's Community Shield, Juan Mata, again casting doubt on the midfielder's future, popped up to claim the crucial opening goal when United appeared to be labouring.

Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring their third goal with team mates. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring their third goal with team mates. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters

How much Mata plays for United this season - he started only because Jesse Lingard was unfit - and whether he stays remains to be seen, but he has already made a significant contribution to Mourinho's season and the manager will feel vindicated, as well as feeling his touch is back.

For Bournemouth, who turned over Louis van Gaal's United at home last season, this was tough to take - but there was a harsh reality for their bright, determined manager Eddie Howe.

He has recruited well and creatively, with talented young players such as Jordon Ibe and the eye-catching Lewis Cook. He has thickened up his midfield but there is a vulnerability at the heart of defence - this was not a good day for Steve Cook or Simon Francis - that can be exploited, and especially by seasoned predators such as Ibrahimovic.

Exceptional

His goal was exceptional, as was the one he claimed to win the Community Shield, and this could be the shape of his season. The 34-year-old's contribution was, at times, minimal - but he is dead-eyed in his execution and, when Anthony Martial allowed him to take possession, he unerringly steered a low right-foot shot from 25 yards across Artur Boruc and into the net.

There was a "see-you-later" flick over Andrew Surman to leave the midfielder trailing and another clever lay-off to Rooney, from whom Boruc eventually saved, but at times the Swede flitted out of proceedings as he has often done throughout his remarkable career.

But he did enough, once more, and Mourinho is receiving what he expected from Ibrahimovic. Also, with his influence, the likes of Ander Herrera, who was impressive in midfield, are thriving in his presence.

Maybe Rooney, too. Again, his contribution was fitful - but he also scored.

As with Mata's strike, which came as Francis's backpass fell woefully short and the Spaniard pounced, only for Boruc to save but the ball to rebound back to the United player from the Bournemouth captain, there was fortune.

But with the second goal there was the kind of controlled build-up Mourinho craves - even if Antonio Valencia got breaks when the ball ricocheted back to him and when his cross was met by Martial, only for his miscued shot to fall to Rooney, who directed a header back across Boruc.

It meant that Rooney is now just four goals away from surpassing Bobby Charlton's club record of 249.

Ibrahimovic's goal made it 3-0 and Mourinho's revealing reaction, he later confessed, was because he felt it was game over. But for all the defensive ruggedness of Eric Bailly, who was outstanding and uncompromising, there remains a vulnerability to United that Mourinho is trying to stamp out - and they did duly concede.

It came as full-back Adam Smith seized on an error on the edge of the United area, made space for himself and drove a powerful shot beyond David De Gea.

Bournemouth poured forward - this is the never-say-die Premier League, after all - but United's advantage was too much, even if De Gea still had to extend himself to repel Surman's header and then survived a penalty appeal as he upended substitute Benik Afobe.

Mourinho made his mark - he had his win. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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