Date: 14th August 2016 at 6:43pm
Written by: Neil Dawson

Bournemouth kicked off the premier league season against the most illustrious of opponents, both team and individual, in glorious sunshine. All felt well with the world. We were no longer the leagues new boys but had an air of ‘established’ about us. Indeed we were matching a side creaking with international talent. Matching them blow by blow and at times more than matching them. ‘It must be about time for our calamitous mistake’ said a voice behind me…… he wasn’t far wrong – it took another 30 seconds before normal service had resumed.

Eddie started with the much predicted 4-3-3 today with Ibe and King operating the flanks and Cook surprisingly opted for instead of most fans prediction of Ake as a defensive shield. More relevant to the game was it was the same back four that had Villa to thank for not conceding the most goals in the league last year.

The game started tentatively. Mourinho has never been much of a gambler and with our 4-3-3 more resembling a 4-5-1 there was a lot of pretty football played in front of both defences with very little threat and a lot of industry.

Of the new boys, Cook shone early on with tenacity and a clever range of turns and tricks. Ibe will be a fans divisive player is my early guess although we need to see him against lesser players. Clearly skilful but if he has to stop dead and do a trick every time he gets the ball rather than keep the game flowing he may frustrate some.

The game ebbed and flowed up the pitch but only creating a couple of chances – Wilson nipping in behind Blind to fire wide and a clever ball inside the full back leaving Mata to set up Rooney who forced the first save out of a diving Boruc.

Bournemouth’s football was great but Souness summed it up afterwards with his five a side comment, Ibe and King were a mile away from Wilson as was Arter. King in particular was doing so much tracking back with Valencia he never got the ball in a position where his pace could threaten.

Still, Bournemouth were getting further and further forwards and starting to knock on the door while looking very comfortable defending any threat. Then the obligatory ‘moment’ happened. Francis was running back onto a very hopeful punt forwards by Herrera, Mata chasing. The skipper just had to put it out or firmly find Boruc. He did nothing and rolled the ball short. Boruc made a brilliant save from MATA’S shot but the ball came back, hit Francis again and rolled back into the path of the little Spaniard for another comedy of errors goal.

HT Bournemouth 0 Man U 1

Man United went for the jugular after half time, knowing another goal would get this wrapped up. Rooney went clean through twice, once brilliantly saved and once getting an imaginary nudge and looking hopefully at the referee. At the other end Bournemouth were largely playing on the break and some good intricate stuff got them near the box but a strange reluctance to either shoot or play a final ball was scuppering them.

The game looked in the balance though but once again a defensive lapse cost them. Valencia’s cross was wayward but Martial fancied a volley from the edge of the box. His connection was poor sending the ball bouncing in but it was still anticipated by ROONEY and none of our back four who had left him all alone in acres of space to bury the header for the clinching second.

It quickly went from bad to worse with Ibrahimovic allowed to turn and run unchallenged for a good 30 yards before firing a low daisy cutter the same distance past Boruc.

Eddie rang the changes with Grabban and Afobe arriving for Wilson and Ibe but with our previous record signing from Wolves managing to ruin the next three attacks by wandering offside he must have wondered why he bothered.

Grabban faired slightly better and ran across the defence before spotting a great gap to release ADAM SMITH who cleverly jinked it onto his left foot and fired a thunderbolt beyond De Gea.

The energy didn’t really up though until the final five minutes and by then Boruc had pulled off a wonder save to deny Ibra his second from a free-kick. The end saw a brief flurry from the home side but too often crossing and shooting opportunities were passed up, notably when Gradel weakly crossed low with two men at the far post which prompted a furious exchange between him and King, the two players being dragged apart at the final whistle. (Don’t expect to read about that in the Echo though). Surman did pull one fine save out of De Gea with a snap shot though.

FT Bournemouth 1 Man U 3

Boruc 7 – Some fantastic saves – could he have got to the 3rd though?

Smith 7 – Pick of defence and nicely taken goal.
Francis 5- Poor mistake for goal but some good anti Ibra aerial stuff.
Cook 6 – Good on ball but some suspect marking and space leaving.
Daniels 6 – Quiet in new system.

Ibe 6 – Early days – good promise but too much show pony today.
Surman 5 – Very tied up and stuggled to get in game much.
Arter 6 – A lot of running but not on ball as much as normal.
L.Cook 7 – Very encouraging start of skill and tenacity, faded.
King 7 – Worked his socks off – too deep to damage though.

Wilson 5 – Isolated and no change out of impressive Bailly

There is a very heavy caveat here that we were playing a side with several world class players and a world class manager. A tough start. That said – we are in this league on merit, not by invitation and are in the top eight spenders ourselves for the second year in a row.

The first half an hour was very impressive against opponents of this calibre and the shape was working defensively, if not offensively where Calum Wilson’s only chance of talking to anyone he knew would have been had he brought his iPhone on the pitch. The problem is our defenders are individually good ball playing defensive footballers but none of them are out and out defenders. You sit and wait for the football related mistake and you never really have to wait long.

Eddie has elected not to do much about defensive personnel in the last few transfer windows but he did bring in Ake as a defensive shield to stop people running at us and offer more aerial protection. This was sensible if he thought the individuals in his back four were strong enough just unprotected. It begs the question why didn’t he start today?

This to me is the root of our problem that we will have to solve if we don’t want second syndrome season to hit. We have bought a lot of very similar (and mainly attacking) players. Does Afobe, Grabban, King or Wilson offer anything substantially different from each other? Ibe, Gradel, Stanislas……… Cook, Surman, Arter, Gosling, Hyndeman, O’Kane? All variations on very much the same theme.. As long as the theme works we are ok – but if it doesn’t there is no alternative.

Finally the system. Right system for the modern game I think – just not played right and the personnel similarities above are the main reason for this. There is never anyone in the box when the ball comes in apart from the one forward. Contrast this with Spurs who have the same system and have the centre forward, attacking midfielder and at least one wide man, maybe two in the box on every cross. We don’t have a natural number 10 to play 4-2-3-1 and when we play the more risky pure 4-3-3 we haven’t mastered yet that Ibe and King have to be in the box on every attack and the seven behind will cover them.

We used to have a nightmare defence but the kamikaze attacking kept the ball down the other end enough to squeeze out wins. West Ham away last year a prime example. Take away the kamikaze attacking and leave the nightmare defence and you have got real problems!! Today it felt like that’s what we have done.

So – we are all learning, its early days and today was going to be tough whatever. No need to press the panic button yet but lots to think about.

Report by Neil Dawson

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