After the original fixture was postponed in unprecedented fashion on Sunday, Manchester United take on Bournemouth in the ignominious knowledge that a top four finish is now beyond them.
Only a defeat for bitter rivals Manchester City away to Swansea City could have enabled United to snatch a spot in next season’s Champions League, but they came away with a draw, so it looks set to be a major failure for both the club and manager Louis van Gaal. It remains to be seen whether this will be the Dutchman’s last league game in charge, but even if they go on and win the FA Cup next weekend the odds are still against him seeing out the final year of his contract.
Having put together a promising sequence of results, the Red Devils travelled to West Ham United on Tuesday evening with matters very much in their own hands, but they failed to seize the initiative on what was an emotional and highly-charged occasion for their opponents. It was an incredible sight to see them go 2-1 ahead at one point given the extent of their inferiority on the night as Anthony Martial’s pace on the break caused problems, but an inability to defend set-pieces meant a massive opportunity eventually went begging.
A club like Man Utd should be challenging for the Premier League title almost every season, so to go three years without doing so represents a major disappointment while missing out on the top four altogether is bordering on inconceivable, so van Gaal has not lived up to expectation, or indeed the reverence that surrounded him when he was appointed. He has brought few many promising youngsters, but an often criticised style of football ensures that the negatives outweigh the positives.
There are no such gripes among supporters and directors of Bournemouth, who despite a dip in form over recent weeks have comfortable survived in their maiden top-flight campaign. They have been refreshing, and have shown that what a club can lack in terms of resources they can make up in team ethic and strong direction from those in charge. The sky continues to be the limit for Eddie Howe, whose list of astonishing achievements grows longer as each year passes.
In the summer they will need to improve defensively, and they have shown over recent transfer windows that they are not afraid to spend large sums of money. Making sure of a second season in the Premier League has been a collective effort, but some individuals within the squad have the potential to be outstanding at the highest level providing they have better luck on the injury front. As for this one, pulling off a league double over Man Utd would be an extra special way to sign off.
Matteo Darmian is set to miss out again for the hosts, who are also without Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw.
Bournemouth could give an opportunity to some fringe players, but defenders Sylvain Distin and Adam Smith remain absent.
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