Another away trip is on the menu for Manchester United after the comforts of Old Trafford last week. The race for Champions League qualification is destined to go to the wire and considering United’s away form, the coming trip to Bournemouth might actually be the toughest remaining fixture for Red Devils.
Here are five storylines to look forward to as United travel to Bournemouth for a potentially tricky away fixture:
The Return of Rashford
Manchester United put Wolves away last weekend in a good display of attacking football. However, as has been the theme of the season, lots of chances were squandered as they undershot their xG once again.
Marcus Rashford missed the game due to injury and is set to return for this one. Although his own form has suffered after a hot streak, he remains United’s most confident finisher right now. An away game to Bournemouth won’t be as comfortable as a home game against Wolves and if United squander chances again, an upset could be on the cards.
Rashford’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for the club and Erik ten Hag.
Tick-Tock on many players’ futures
With the return of Raphael Varane against Wolves, competition further stiffened up for club captain Harry Maguire to make his mark on the starting XI. The selection of Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof over him was a damning indictment of Maguire’s prospects this season. Now, with every game like a cup final till the end of the season, the England centre-back might have made his last appearance as a starter for Manchester United.
With just three league games to go, followed by the marquee FA Cup final against Manchester City, time is running out for fringe players to impress. The club needs to sell players to raise funds for incomings and winds of change might blow at Old Trafford soon.
Joining Maguire on this list is Scott McTominay, whose injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Fred had an encouraging cameo against Wolves and McTominay might fetch better value in the market. He might have made his last Manchester United starting appearance as well.
Outside of these big names, players like Anthony Elanga and Wout Weghorst are also fighting for their future (permanent move in the latter’s case). There seems to be no turnaround in fortunes for any of these players.
Alejandro Garnacho’s time is now
Garnacho was going through a purple patch of his career when a cruel injury stopped him in his tracks. However, his form on his return to injury shows the player had no rust at all.
He doubled United’s lead against Wolves with a composed finish last weekend and with Jadon Sancho still struggling to find his best form, the time for Garnacho is now.
Ten Hag challenged Garnacho earlier in the season to convert his pace and trickery into the end product. With him looking increasingly confident in front of goal now, it would be remiss to not use him from the start in a team that is struggling to put away chances.
Garnacho is taking a leap in his career, now the club has to facilitate it and maximise his potential.
Liverpool breathing down the neck
The Champions League qualification race that never should have been has officially turned into squeaky bum time. Liverpool’s juggernaut has picked up pace. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds are on a seven-game winning streak in the Premier League. The gap to Newcastle and Manchester United is down to just a single point, although Liverpool have played a game more.
However, with Newcastle facing a couple of tricky fixtures and United still to play an away game, as well as a game against Chelsea, the top-four race is officially on.
United have used up almost all the breathing room they had earned with a good first half of the season, and Liverpool have made up for almost all the lost points they missed during a dismal first half of the year. With Liverpool now breathing down their neck, the equation is simple. At least two wins from the remaining three games will secure UCL qualification.
It would be a disaster if United bottle this somehow.
Curing the away woes
Manchester United’s last away victory was on April 16, against Nottingham Forest. Since then, the team has played four away games and their record makes for abysmal reading – one draw, three losses.
Ten Hag has struggled to make United work away from Old Trafford, especially in games against opposition in the top half of the table. The midfielders are easily harried and there is an uncomfortable vibe in defence in front of a raucous atmosphere.
However, there can’t be a better fixture for United to cure their away woes than this one. Bournemouth are already safe from relegation after a remarkable job by Gary O’Neil and they can’t qualify for Europe. Comfortably mid-table, such teams are ripe for getting a result against as the season comes to a close.
That said, the Vitality stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the team. They’ve only won four of their nine fixtures away to Bournemouth. Armed with a week’s rest, with the Champions League beckoning, the team has to put that record right with a win in this one.