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Football: It just gets tougher for United

Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini, David de Gea and Nick Powell look dejected after Naldo scored the third goal in Wolfsburg's 3-2 win against Manchester United in the Champions League game on Tuesday.
Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini, David de Gea and Nick Powell look dejected after Naldo scored the third goal in Wolfsburg's 3-2 win against Manchester United in the Champions League game on Tuesday.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Van Gaal may be forced to field a weak, makeshift team

It was the greatest day in Bournemouth's history, their manager declared. It was the lowest point in Louis van Gaal's reign, even if he did not admit it himself.

Bournemouth and Manchester United meet when they are experiencing contrasting emotions. The promoted Cherries were buoyed by beating champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last Saturday.

The historic giants were eliminated from the Champions League in crushing fashion against Wolfsburg on Tuesday. Van Gaal has strangely supportive employers but he now needs to win the title to persuade many others, whether ex-players or supporters, that he deserves to remain United manager.

That 3-2 defeat was a rare entertaining game but, after five 0-0 draws in nine matches, even the excitement was unwelcome. Van Gaal's errors were exposed. He has sold, loaned out or dropped too many attacking talents, exacerbating the reliance on the rookie Anthony Martial, especially when the declining Wayne Rooney has been injured.

His squad are undermanned and his team show a damning lack of quality, after spending £288 million (S$613.6 million).

In contrast, Bournemouth beat Chelsea with a starting XI that cost £1.7 million. Their match winner, Glenn Murray, was costlier and a man with a decider against United - for Crystal Palace in the League Cup - on his CV may be asked to reprise his role as impact substitute.

Bournemouth had planned to build their team around the prolific Callum Wilson and their two biggest buys, Tyrone Mings and Max Gradel, but now all are sidelined.

While these clubs are opposites in much else, they are rivals in the goal-scoring stakes, where United are only marginally more prolific than Bournemouth, and the injury table, as both feature depleted squads.

Van Gaal is particularly short of defenders, giving an already progressive Cherries team further onus to attack, while, as Bastian Schweinsteiger begins a three-match ban, he has few options in the centre of midfield. Inexperienced comparative unknowns could feature.

Unless some of the injured contingent are pressed into earlier-than-expected returns, this could be the weakest side van Gaal has fielded since his first few weeks in charge. Bournemouth may never get a better chance to defeat them.

Eddie Howe's potential trump cards are on the flanks. United may field novice full-backs. Bournemouth have a high-speed in-form left winger in Junior Stanislas, the scorer of their 98th-minute equaliser in the 3-3 draw with Everton. Their classiest player, Matt Ritchie, will cut in from the right to shoot on his favoured, and lethal, left foot.

Yet poor and porous as United were at the back in Wolfsburg, they have conceded only twice in 701 minutes of Premier League football. They may rely on David de Gea to extend that record and hope they can pilfer a goal to stem the criticism of van Gaal.

BOURNEMOUTH V MAN UNITED

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2015, with the headline 'It just gets tougher for United'. Print Edition | Subscribe