Caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he is not solely focused on “attacking football” after Manchester United scored their 12th goal in three games in a scintillating victory over Bournemouth.
A cavalier display in the first half at Old Trafford saw United score three times, with Paul Pogba netting his second double in successive matches and Marcus Rashford grabbing the other.
Solskjaer’s side conceded their third goal in as many games when Nathan Ake headed in before substitute Romelu Lukaku fired home a fourth.
United, in sixth, are now only three points behind fifth-placed Arsenal, having trailed by eight following the morale-sapping 3-1 defeat at Liverpool earlier this month.
“Everyone thinks I’m looking for attacking football all the time,” said Solskjaer.
“But the foundation is how you defend – keep a clean sheet and you have a decent chance to win a game of football.
“Training sessions have been high quality. The tempo and sharpness has been really good, but we will get better and we are working towards a clean sheet.”
Pogba poked in his first after Rashford had mesmerised both Ake and Diego Rico on the right, before the French World Cup winner headed in from Ander Herrera’s precise delivery.
It was 3-0 when Anthony Martial, back in the XI after recovering from a bug, provided a wonderful cross for Rashford to slide his shot past Asmir Begovic.
Bournemouth, who had looked dangerous on set-pieces, pulled a goal back in first-half stoppage-time when Ake headed in following good work by David Brooks.
Lukaku scored United’s fourth from Pogba’s pass two minutes after coming on, before defender Eric Bailly was shown a straight red card for scything down Cherries midfielder Ryan Fraser.
This victory means Solskjaer has emulated Sir Matt Busby and Jose Mourinho by winning his first three league games in charge.
The Norwegian will be looking to make it four at Newcastle on Wednesday, while Bournemouth remain 12th in the Premier League.
United rediscover old swagger
The loss at Anfield on 16 December seems like an age ago. On that day United’s players trudged off the field having been overwhelmed by their arch-rivals.
Since Solskjaer replaced Mourinho, the Red Devils have reverted to type, playing a style familiar to those who watched attack-minded teams sweep to 13 league titles under Sir Alex Ferguson.
They are not at that level but the watching Ferguson, who turns 77 on Monday, would have been impressed with the way United went about opening up the Cherries’ defence from the first whistle.
Pogba and Rashford led the charge. The first goal was all about the Englishman’s trickery on the right, as he left both Ake and Rico trailing before striking a low cross which was turned in by Pogba.
Pogba’s second was reminiscent of goals scored by former United captain Bryan Robson, as he arrived late to power home a cross from Herrera.
Rashford’s strike from close range should have capped off a perfect half of football for United, but Ake’s header kept the second half interesting.
United continued to drive at Eddie Howe’s side after the break but Lukaku’s strike, with his weaker right foot, was the only goal they managed for their efforts.
Pogba was denied his hat-trick by a brilliant Begovic save and the post, and the Bosnian keeper also rushed out to block Rashford’s shot.
United only took their foot off the accelerator when Bailly received his third red card while playing for club, 11 minutes from time. The Cherries might argue that Ashley Young should have also been sent off for the reckless manner in which he won the ball from Joshua King in the first half.
Nine goals conceded in two games, but Cherries can take positives
It has been a tough post-Christmas period for Bournemouth so far. A 5-0 thumping at Tottenham on 26 December and now this heavy defeat at Old Trafford, coupled with the long-term injury to Simon Francis, has the Cherries looking for solace.
However, they provided enough of an indication on Sunday that better might be forthcoming when they host Watford on Wednesday.
Norway striker King looked a threat throughout, with one shot blocked by Bailly, while David de Gea produced a good save to prevent him from bursting the net.
Defender Ake was also a nuisance for United’s defence. Aside from his goal, he produced another goal-bound header which came off the arm of De Gea.
The backline needs working on but Howe’s side carries enough of an attacking threat to get them back on track.
Man of the match – Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
‘The next few games will be important’ – reaction
Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe: “It was disappointing technically and defensively, but I think we have to look at ourselves and think we could have got more from the game.
“We have had a difficult run of games and had some injuries, and maybe we have had a loss of confidence because of that. But we won’t make excuses and we have to work hard to turn it around.
“Ultimately, I still believe we are a good team but we are in a difficult moment so these next few games are going to be very important.”
Pogba continues to shine under Solskjaer – the stats
- United have recorded three consecutive Premier League victories for the first time since a run of five in April.
- After losing their first league clash with Bournemouth in December 2015, United are unbeaten in each of the past seven Premier League games against them (W6 D1).
- No side have kept fewer clean sheets in the Premier League this season than United (two, also Fulham).
- Rashford has provided six assists in 17 Premier League appearances this season; as many as in his previous two seasons combined (77 appearances).
- Pogba has scored four goals in his three Premier League appearances under Solskjaer, as many as he had in his previous 20 under Mourinho.
- Pogba is the first United player to score at least twice in consecutive Premier League appearances since Wayne Rooney in December 2012.
- With four goals and three assists, December 2018 has been Pogba’s best month for goal involvements in his top-flight career.
- Lukaku has scored eight goals in seven Premier League games against Bournemouth – only against West Ham (nine) has he scored more in the competition.
- After just four goal involvements in his first 15 Premier League appearances, Bournemouth’s Brooks has been involved in three in his past three (two goals, one assist).
United travel to Newcastle on Wednesday (20:00 GMT) and Bournemouth are at home to Watford on the same day (19:45 GMT).