MANCHESTER, England — Three quick thoughts from Manchester United 1-1 Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
1. Manchester United fail to win on eventful afternoon
This was two points dropped by Manchester United and one gained for Bournemouth, but that hardly tells the story of a stormy afternoon at Old Trafford.
The mood turned on an incident shortly before half-time when Bournemouth’s Andrew Surman was dismissed after a clash involving Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tyrone Mings. It was, for once, not the Swede’s afternoon and that was confirmed when he missed a second-half penalty that would have lifted United to fourth in the table.
Marcos Rojo had jabbed United, who had already created enough chances to be out of sight, in front from close range midway through the opening period — a lead surprisingly cancelled out when Josh King scored confidently from the spot after Phil Jones had fouled Marc Pugh.
It seemed as though Bournemouth would see the half out uneventfully. Then mayhem unfolded in added time. What appears beyond dispute is that at least one of Mings and Ibrahimovic should have been sent off and Surman, the man eventually dismissed, was the least guilty of those involved. Ibrahimovic had been caught on the head by Mings’ trailing boot moments earlier and that appeared to be on his mind when, rising to challenge the Bournemouth defender from a corner, he elbowed him squarely in the jaw — his intentions clearly channeled toward a retribution attack.
Ming went down in a heap; a melee ensued and finished with Surman, who had pushed Ibrahimovic after the incident, being dismissed by referee Kevin Friend. While Surman had been in the wrong, it seemed unbelievably harsh that he should be the player punished. Ibrahimovic will surely receive a ban for his elbow and then there is the case of Mings, who may be in for even sterner punishment if his initial part in events is deemed to have been intentional. He had been challenged firmly by the United striker and with Ibrahimovic on the floor as he hurdled him, planted his foot in the most dangerous area possible. The panel that sits to decide whether this was mere clumsiness may be in for a long afternoon.
There was little doubting Jose Mourinho’s views on the matter, nor those of the Old Trafford crowd. United continued to knock on the door during a predictably one-sided second half before controversy reared its head again 19 minutes from time. Friend adjudged Adam Smith to have deliberately handled Paul Pogba’s pull-back, which struck his arm at close quarters, inside the box and you would have backed Ibrahimovic to win the game from the spot. Instead Artur Boruc, who had been outstanding all afternoon, saved low to his right and United were left to rue points dropped in their pursuit of the top four.
2. Mourinho’s changes cost United
This was a match United should have won easily but perhaps their team selection hindered them. Mourinho had professed his love for Manchester United’s squad players in his programme notes and demonstrated it by handing out recalls to the starting XI for Luke Shaw, Wayne Rooney, Jones and Michael Carrick. This was Shaw’s first Premier League appearance since the draw with Burnley on Oct. 29. For Rooney it was a first top-flight start since Dec. 17 while Jones was back in action after a month out with a foot injury.
The newcomers experienced mixed fortunes. Shaw, who Mourinho said “should have all the conditions to be the best” of United’s left-backs, came out in credit and should have had an early assist when a fine, raking ball down the inside-left channel sent Pogba sprinting through on goal. Boruc saved magnificently with his fingertips but the move’s architect could take confidence. Shaw looked sharp throughout for a player with so few games under his belt of late, and his 70th-minute replacement by Jesse Lingard was a reflection of United’s need to chase a win rather than his own performance.
Rooney, who saw Marcus Rashford take his place at the same time, had rather more mixed fortunes. Starting behind Ibrahimovic, he missed a good header opportunity in the second minute when there was time to bring the ball down. Shortly before Surman’s red card he forced an excellent parry from Boruc at the far post and then, early in the second half, he saw a close-range shot deflected over. It was by no means a sluggish performance, but surely not enough to restore him to the starting lineup on a weekly basis.
The biggest concern came via Jones, whose performance suggested Mourinho may have made a change too many. The warning signs were there when, in the fourth minute, he was sent flying by a shoulder charge by King; Bournemouth had clearly sought to target his lack of mobility and moments after he had clumsily felled Pugh for the equaliser, he was almost caught out again as King pounced on another error and saw a shot blocked.
There were fewer alarms after half-time as Bournemouth looked to shut up shop. But the damage had been done and while Mourinho will have gained some positives from changing his team around, it may have cost him, too.
3. Resolute Bournemouth show real fight
What a perplexing performance this was from Bournemouth, whose defending verged on catastrophic throughout the first half before Surman’s red card caused them to tighten up for what could prove a vital point in their battle against the drop.
The Cherries had conceded at least twice in each of their previous eight games and are hardly known for their defensive solidity. Eddie Howe’s decision to attack United from the start therefore had some merit and his boldness should have been rewarded in the 11th minute when centre-forward Benik Afobe, selected in place of Jack Wilshere, ran clear but stumbled when attempting to round David De Gea.
In truth, though, they should have been out of contention by the time King converted their equaliser and the recurring thought was that no team battling relegation can get away with being this brittle at the back. Mings, later to become one of the afternoon’s villains, was shaky on and off the ball at centre-back and cover from midfield was inadequate, too. If it was testament to their spirit that they got back into the game, it was also through sheer luck and the form of Boruc.
Yet they dug deep in the second half, defended more compactly with 10 men and eventually earned an unlikely draw that halts a run of four consecutive defeats. Their celebrations after a frantic finale showed exactly how much it could mean.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.