Manchester United on verge of top-four spot after Casemiro sinks Bournemouth | Premier League
Mission accomplished for Erik ten Hag. Well, almost. One more point from their final two games against Chelsea and Fulham will be enough to confirm Manchester United’s place in the top four and Champions League qualification for next season after Casemiro’s instinctive overhead kick was enough to secure a vital victory.
That their third away win of 2023 was achieved in the absence of their top-scorer, Marcus Rashford, was particularly satisfying for their delighted Dutch manager, who watched his side dominate possession without ever looking fully secure after taking an early lead.
But while Bournemouth may have offered stiffer opposition had their Premier League status not already been assured, Ten Hag was relieved United have overcome their late wobble to come within touching distance of their main objective for the season with two games to spare. Not even Liverpool’s late equaliser against Aston Villa that keeps alive their slim hopes of overhauling their bitter rivals could spoil their party.
“It was one of our best performances of the season – this is the standard we want to play at,” said Ten Hag, who said Roberto Firmino’s goal made no difference to his feeling. “We have everything in our hands so there is no reason to look behind us.”
Ten Hag’s worst fears may have been realised when it was confirmed Rashford had not travelled with the squad to the south coast due to illness. But United were good value for their victory despite David de Gea having to make three outstanding saves in a timely reminder of his best qualities.
While Bournemouth’s players cannot be blamed for being on the beach after their miraculous recovery under Gary O’Neil – who could consider himself unfortunate after not being named on the shortlist for manager of the year – they were by no means here just to make up the numbers and could easily have come away with a point had it not been for De Gea.
“It was a good performance from us given that we were missing some players but it’s not easy once you’ve reached the top of the mountain to go again,” said O’Neil.
The former Manchester City youth player David Brooks made his first Premier League start for 598 days after receiving extended treatment for Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma, as one of five Bournemouth changes. A video of pundits, including Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, predicting the Cherries would be relegated this season that was played just before kick-off certainly raised the atmosphere among the home fans on a pleasant afternoon in Dorset.
But it was the visitors who made the more positive start in their garish lime-green third kit, with Bruno Fernandes firing over from outside the area. The breakthrough came soon after thanks to two moments of inspiration. Marcos Senesi could only divert Christian Eriksen’s perfectly executed cross into the path of Casemiro, who reacted extremely quickly to contort his body and flick the ball into the net from close range. His third Premier League goal of the season was greeted with a throaty roar from the Brazilian.
Bournemouth’s first moment of danger arrived 27 minutes in when Dominic Solanke pounced on a United mistake and forced De Gea into an excellent full-length save after the striker’s initial effort had been blocked. Antony and Fernandes then almost handed the hosts a way back into the game by sloppily giving the ball away in dangerous areas, although Bournemouth could not make them pay.
Good news from Anfield that Liverpool were behind began to filter through to the away fans but Bournemouth flew out of the blocks at the start of the second half and De Gea once more came to United’s rescue when he tipped a powerful shot from Brooks around the post. The Spaniard was helpless a few minutes later when Solanke’s cross rolled across his goalline but there was no Bournemouth player to apply the finishing touch.
United struggled to recreate their rhythm from the first half until the substitute Wout Weghorst was denied by Neto after a clever ball from Fernandes. The Portugal playmaker forced the Bournemouth captain to make an outstanding save to stop his goalbound volley with 20 minutes to play.
But it was De Gea who showed his value in the dying moments when substitute Kieffer Moore raced through on goal, only for the keeper to block his effort with his body.