After the crushing defeat to Manchester City in the first derby of the season, José Mourinho’s men needed to bounce back.
And that they did, at Old Trafford, against Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth in a very controlled manner. A singular goal from Romelu Lukaku was enough to break the deadlock and claim an all-important three points against the Cherries.
Here are five things that we learned:
Romelu Lukaku worked hard to end his goal drought
There was no getting away from the fact that Lukaku had been on a goal drought. Before tonight, the Belgian international had only scored one goal in his past 10 games, and the lack of confidence showed – especially in the derby.
AS IT HAPPENED: Manchester United v Bournemouth
However, he put that performance to one side, and got back to scoring ways against Bournemouth. Juan Mata delivered a perfectly-weighted ball into his path, which Lukaku nodded into the back of the net. The former Everton striker did not celebrate or show any emotion – perhaps a signal to his harsh critics – but that should improve his confidence going to into a hectic Christmas period.
Lukaku has played every minute of the Premier League season so far, and some fatigue is bound to set in soon. Mourinho would be wise to rest the energy of the Belgian on Sunday against West Brom, and instead play either Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial or Zlatan Ibrahimović through the middle.
Juan Mata can still provide a solid service
While there has been plenty of talk about Mesut Özil joining forces with Mourinho once again in January, or next summer on a free transfer, from Arsenal, the Spanish playmaker staked his claim to become the club’s number 10.
With Henrikh Mkhitaryan being left out of the match day squad in seven of the last eight matches, there is uncertainty over his future at Manchester United.
Mata has been in and out of the starting XI this season, with no real consistency to his game, but he laid down a marker to suggest that he should be trusted by Mourinho on a more frequent basis.
When Mata is playing at his best, there are few that match his intricate passes and intelligence on the ball. The problem has been the Spaniard’s ghosting in and out of games and inability to influence the more important matches.
While Mkhitaryan is frozen out, Mata should be involved more on a regular basis in Mourinho’s team. He still has plenty to give.
Luke Shaw’s attacking impetus is what Manchester United have missed
It has been quite a few days for the former England international, as he now finds himself immersed in the first-team squad once again.
After, allegedly, defending Mourinho’s honour in the tunnel ‘fracas’ that took place after the full-time whistle was blown in the Manchester derby, Shaw made his first Premier League start of the season. A pleasant sight to see for all Red Devils fans.
Shaw showed exactly what Manchester United had lacked this season. While Ashley Young has been a very good stand-in, Shaw’s natural pace and waltzing runs are needed for United.
In a team that lack true wingers, Shaw provides width, speed and the ability to cross when reaching the byline. It was a change in scenery after watching a United full back successfully get the ball past the first man and into a dangerous area for Lukaku to attack.
Shaw might still have a long way to go until he is fully trusted by Mourinho, but he has certainly done no harm to his chances after his performance against Bournemouth.
Scott McTominay has a bright future
Hailed by some as Michael Carrick’s prodigy, Scott McTominay was a breath of fresh air in Manchester United’s midfield and was quite easily the best player on the pitch.
The Scotsman might not be flashy or incredibly skilful on the ball, but then he does not need to be. Like Carrick, he makes the game look simple and plays it that way. McTominay proved that he is ready for this level after dominating the midfield battle and being incredibly solid throughout the 90 minutes.
He might only be 21 years old, but he has the confidence of a senior player that is in their prime. He continually broke the lines and split Bournemouth’s midfield with his array of passes, while also making himself available at all times to receive the ball from his defenders. His movement became apparent very quickly as he worked hard to find space.
McTominay is not a player that is full of tricks, but he plays the game cleanly and is a fantastic player to have in your squad. He certainly has a bright future with the Red Devils.
Phil Jones has to stay injury free
Too many times have we seen Phil Jones go on a good run of form and then end up sidelined for months on end because of injury woes. While he, of course, cannot control such ill fortunes, it would be devastating for the England international if this was to prevent him reaching the pinnacle.
Jones has had his best season in a Manchester United jersey since arriving from Blackburn in 2011, partly because he had been on the pitch regularly.
While he might have been ruled out of contention for the last month due to an injury he picked up while away with England, he came back in an impressive manner to last the full 90 minutes against Bournemouth.
Jones’s defending, as shown with regular occurrence this season, was fantastic as he dominated the half spaces and played out from the back, which has been brought out of him by Mourinho.
Slowly, but surely, Jones is turning into a ball-playing defender, and it has to be said that he does look very comfortable when in possession and picking a pass. Perhaps there is time yet for Jones to become Mourinho’s new John Terry, as the Portuguese pines for him to be.