20:00 GMT, Wednesday 13th December, Old Trafford (Manchester, England)
Having missed a glorious chance to cut the gap at the top of the table, United now find themselves 11 points adrift of City with Christmas fast approaching.
Having lost three of their last eight Premier League games, United will know that it’s entirely possible that City could find themselves in a similar situation sometime soon.
To ensure they’re able to capitalise on any slips, though, United now have the pressure of knowing they need to keep winning all of their upcoming games to prevent any future opportunities being missed in their pursuit for the title.
Eddie Howe has only seen his side fall to two defeats in the Cherries last eight games but three wins and a loss from their last four means they’re still far from safety.
With only three points separating them from the relegation places, Howe knows that things could turn ugly quickly unless he can get some more points on the board over the festive period.
Having already drawn one and won one of only four meetings against United in the Premier League, it may not be beyond the realms of probability that the Cherries could again prosper in this fixture.
Last Time Out
Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City (Premier League)
United lost their 100% home record to their local rivals as Mourinho’s men came out of this highly-anticipated clash second-best.
Without key players such as Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly, Mourinho chose to take a cautious approach against City with two solid banks of four deployed to limit space in the Manchester United half. While this meant much of the game was spent on the edge of their own penalty area, the Red Devils were hard to break down and City were afforded few golden chances throughout the match.
While United’s goal came from a quick counter that Marcus Rashford applied the finishing touch too, there were few real opportunities for the Reds to threaten Ederson’s goal.
Romelu Lukaku was isolated in attack for the vast majority of the game, only managing to complete six passes during the whole 90 minutes. The Belgian striker was also unlucky to find himself entangled in failing to clear his lines sufficiently for both of City’s goals, while the two chances he had at the opposite end were snatched at and well-saved respectively.
It was a sorry performance from the striker but it neatly encapsulated United’s problems against City as a whole.
Crystal Palace 2-2 Bournemouth (Premier League)
An action-packed game swung wildly from end-to-end before finally coming to rest with a finely balanced result.
The first-half had seen Jermain Defoe give his side an early lead before Palace struck back with two quick goals just before halftime, the first of which a dubiously awarded penalty for a challenge by Asmir Begovic. Defoe restored parity minutes later to take the Cherries into the break with a stunning volley that levelled the scoreboard.
With both sides showing plenty of attacking intent during the second half as well, it wasn’t a lack of effort which left the score unchanged after the interval.
Although Palace were the stronger team during the closing stages of the match, the Cherries had done more than enough to earn a draw and Begovic’s injury-time penalty save from Christian Benteke ensured Eddie Howe’s men didn’t leave empty-handed.
Manchester United Lineup
Paul Pogba remains suspended for this game while Eric Bailly (groin), Michael Carrick (illness) and Marouane Fellaini (knee) all remain out of contention for United.
Marcos Rojo is also unlikely to start after being substituted against City at half-time with a head injury which will mean another start for Victor Lindelöf in the heart of defence while Phil Jones too will be pushing for a start.
With United needing a return to winning ways, Mourinho will field a strong lineup for this match. However, Antonio Valencia is due his midweek rest and Luke Shaw, who was on the bench against City, may be offered another chance to impress in Ashley Young’s place at left-back following his good performance against CSKA.
Tyrone Mings (back) is still unavailable for Howe, although, Adam Smith can return to the side after serving a one-match suspension for accumulating five yellow cards in the league so far.
This could well see Bournemouth revert to the 5-3-2 formation they used at the end of October to almost successfully stifle the threat posed by both Chelsea and Tottenham, rather than their usual 4-4-1-1 formation.
Key Battle: Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United) vs Jermain Defoe (Bournemouth)
Despite a goal against Newcastle when the game was already won and another against CSKA Moscow in the final group game of the Champions League, goals have been in short supply for United’s main striker recently.
Having further grown his reputation for not delivering against ‘bigger’ opponents in more important fixtures, Lukaku will now aim to further his notoriety against sides at the wrong end of the table.
Jermain Defoe found himself back amongst the goals on Saturday, with a brace which was only the second league game he’s scored in this season and put him over the 200 goal barrier for his career total. It also took his personal tally to nine goals from ten games against Palace and the 35-year-old forward will be hoping to continue this new-found touch in front of goal against United at Old Trafford.
However, his record against the Red Devils is far less impressive with 5 goals from 29 appearances and only the first of which coming at Old Trafford when West Ham clinched a 0-1 win in December 2001.
A time to believe
While nobody at United is likely to admit it anytime soon, they were clearly out-gunned and outclassed by their City rivals last weekend. What they are though, is a team who are still growing, with noticeable improvements being made on the team Mourinho had last season.
To make the next step in their evolution, United need to become the side who are able to dominate games like City do and like the United of old did not so long ago. The big games United have been involved in this season has seen them play well in patches. However, these patches are normally directly following a goal by their opponent.
To become more proactive and less reactive, one of the main missing ingredients is belief and this is what City have in abundance which is currently making them seem arrogant from certain angles.
Rub of the green
If Mourinho thinks he’s had problems with poor refereeing decisions lately, he will find a sympathetic ear in the opposition dugout during this game. After seeing the referee twice point to the spot last weekend to award a penalty against his team, Eddie Howe can be forgiven for thinking the world is currently against him.
Although the Cherries manager questioned the validity of both penalties, neither were highly controversial even if they were relatively soft compared to some decisions already made this season.
This came a game after the Cherries were turned down a clear penalty of their own when Sofiane Boufal fouled Adam Smith, only for the Bournemouth player to receive the due yellow card.
While it’s often said that bad luck comes in three’s, hopefully for the Cherries this counts as separate decisions rather than consecutive games and a turn in fortune will, therefore, be well on its way.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-0 Bournemouth
Mourinho and United are likely to be hurting after last weekend’s defeat and will be keen to make an instant statement of intent from this fixture.
Bournemouth may play a more defensive shape than normal in this game but they will still attempt to play a passing style of football which could play perfectly into United’s hands.
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