Manchester United welcome Bournemouth to Old Trafford for the opening match of 2023 in the Premier League on Tuesday evening. United are on the back of five wins in their last five matches, scoring 12 goals, conceding three and keeping three clean sheets. It seems clear to see that United are doing well under Erik ten Hag this season and the improvement is clear to see. Since Ten Hag took over, United have won 70.8% of matches, losing 20.8% and are undefeated in 79.2%.
The Dutchman is clearly building something good at the club that is not going to be a quick fix and something that should have longevity applied to it. At a club post-Glazer will become something positive and could see United rise to compete with the top teams in European football once again. But before the club heads back in that direction, we should all enjoy the progress that has been attained and will still be gathered in the coming matches. This journey should be a good one.
Bournemouth sit 15th in the Premier League this season with 16 points earned in the 17 matches played. United sit in fourth place with 32 poimts earned in the 16 matches played. United saw their top four position strengthened after beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 then seeing Tottenham Hotspur fall to a 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa on New Year’s Day, which sees United two points clear of Spurs with a game in hand. Spurs now look to be falling from grace.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw;
Antony, Fernandes, Rashford;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea has such a good match against Wolverhampton Wanderers, especially with his saves, that he needs to continuing to start for United. That could change against Charlton Athletic in the Carabao Cup though with Tom Heaton likely to get a chance in the competition this season. De Gea has been so good for United lately that he’s starting to make a big impact at the club this season. Martin Dubravka was a positive loan signing in the summer but that Burnley match was dire.
United have kept clean sheets in their last three matches and will want to keep achieving them as it will raise their goal difference, which could come into contention at the end of the season. United have a +4 goal difference at the moment but Newcastle United (third) have +21, Manchester City (second) have +28 and Arsenal (first) have +26. United will need to keep an eye on Spurs (fifth) with +8 and Liverpool (sixth) with +12. Ensuring they have a better difference than those below.
Heaton is unlikely to challenge De Gea for the number one shirt this season and the likes of Nathan Bishop and Matej Kovar may not be ready to take on the Spaniard for the number one shirt yet. It would seem that Erik ten Hag will be seeking to sign a new goalkeeper in the future but De Gea’s contractual situation could be sorted out prior to the summer, which might give United more time – especially with the club on the market at the current time – which is a good thing.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw
United’s defence have been brilliant this season and for the last few matches they have been without the best partnership at the club this season. Raphael Varane came back shortly after the FIFA World Cup but Lisandro Martinez took some extra time off and has been back at the club for a week or so now. It is expected that he could return at Old Trafford against Bournemouth, restoring the positive defensive duo of Varane and Martinez, which will be important this season.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has played well with the absence of Diogo Dalot since the season started against after the World Cup and it seems likely that he will keep his place against Bournemouth after some positive performances. It is likely that he will be sold though with United reportedly wanting him gone whether it be this month or in the summer. On the long-term it has not worked out well for United. There could be something positive with him though.
In the left-back position, Luke Shaw could take back his favoured role after playing as the left-sided central defender in the last two matches. Whilst it has been positive for him, it is s short-term solution for a problem that United had – a lack of central defenders because of Martinez’s absence, the return from injury of Harry Maguire and the illness of Victor Lindelof – not to mention Axel Tuanzebe’s return from injury, which is getting closer.
Midfield: Casemiro, Eriksen
The best midfield duo this season has been Casemiro and Christian Eriksen. Casemiro has been on top form since the victory over Everton at the start of October 2022. Since then, he has been a revelation for United’s midfield and shows that every player needs to be afforded the time to settle, especially when they move from another country to the Premier League. After lots of criticism from the pundits that excuse Darwin Núñes – which has not aged well.
Eriksen has been a brilliant signing for nothing and has settled into the team almost instantly, bossing the midfield with his Brazilian midfield partner. If United had signed the pair a few years back, things would have been so much different especially with a manager like Ten Hag running the show. It is clear that he is hungry to achieve at United and is giving players the time and coaching to find their ability under him which in turn will start to make everything tick.
United have depth in the midfield at the moment too. Fred, Donny van de Beek and Scott McTominay all have experience behind them to step in when needed but also the youth players such as Zidane Iqbal and Kobbie Mainoo have caught the eye of the manager, which shows he is also looking to the future as well as the present – which shows how methodical the Dutchman is being as the manager of the club. United are in great hands in the midfield currently.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Rashford
The attacking midfield need to start producing more for United this season. Marcus Rashford has scored 11 goals and four assists this season, Bruno Fernandes has three goals and three assists and Antony has three goals but more goals need to be created and scored if United are to prevail this season. Rashford seems to be the barometer for success at the club this season and it should inspire those around him to succeed and achieve similar numbers.
Antony has not been great since he returned after the World Cup after sitting out with an injury for the weeks prior to the break in the season. He should be striving to get the better of his opposition this season and seeking to make that big transfer from Ajax in the summer a successful one. Yes, he might need time to adapt but he’s got the talent to succeed – less of the showboating and more perfecting his finishing is needed. If he can finish goals he can showboat as much as he likes.
Bruno Fernandes has improved this season. It is almost as if Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure has allowed him to fulfil his potential once again. When he signed for United in January 2020, he was a massive figure in the team and helped the club finish strongly. However, since Ralf Rangnick took charge of the team, Fernandes seemed to be stiuck in some kind of rut he is still trying to get out. I am sure the best of him will be seen soon and with the matches coming up, it could be good.
Anthony Martial needs to find some form this season. There is a reason why some supporters of the club call him a mannequin. Granted, in 510 minutes this season he has five goals and two assists but if he was really going places this season, he would be bagging goals. Now that Ronaldo has gone, there is space for Martial to succeed but many out there feel that he will not as deep down he is his worst enemy. There is something stopping him from reaching that zone.
Ten Hag will be seeking to sign a new striker and whether that happens in January or in the summer, Martial may find himself on the bench more often than not or playing on the wing, where he played during his best seasons for the club. It is clear that he’s not that predatory striker that United need. Look at the major differences between him and Erling Haaland. There are some major differences there and there is no way Martial will end up playing like him.
Rashford is not a striker and is better playing from the left-wing and United have nothing else that is ready to be starting week upon week. Anthony Elanga is not of United’s standards and is wanted by Everton this month, which would be best for both parties as he could play every match that is for them this season, giving United more of an idea how he is developing. Buying a striker is the only option for United and Martial is not making it a hard decision – says a lot about him.
Substitutes: Heaton; Maguire, Malacia, Dalot; Fred, van de Beek, McTominay; Elanga, Garnacho
Nine substitutes will be named against Bournemouth with five of them able to be used during the match. Now that Martin Dubravka has headed back to Newcastle United following what would be considered a failed loan at United, Tom Heaton will look set to become the reserve goalkeeper once again. United need to sort out the goalkeeper ranks at the club though as De Gea’s future is not so certain at this time but his performance against Wolves could go to solving that.
In defence, I expect to see Harry Maguire on the bench again as he gets back to fitness following illness after the World Cup. Tyrell Malacia and Diogo Dalot (if passed fit) could also be on the bench and if the Portuguese right-back is not yet fully fit, Brandon Williams could take his place. United have a few options in defence once again with means that Shaw will take back his left-back role with Martinez also returning to the starting XI. Victor Lindelof could miss out here.
In the midfield, Fred, Donny van de Beek and Scott McTominay could all be available. If the Scotland international is not fit, one of Kobbie Mainoo, Zidane Iqbal of Facundo Pellistri could take a spot on the bench against Bournemouth. I would like to see Pellistri play for United but there is a chance he could be heading out of the club this month. In attack, Anthony Elanga, who is wanted by Everton and Alejandro Garnacho could be the only attacking players on the bench.
Written by John Walker