Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba were the stars of the show once again as they led the way in Manchester United’s 4-1 win over Bournemouth, securing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a third successive win since taking charge.
United continued to play with the freedom and zip which has so far characterised the post-Jose Mourinho era, with Pogba and Rashford – who have impressed under caretaker boss Solskjaer – key components as the Red Devils wrapped up 2018 by closing to within three points of fifth-placed Arsenal.
A moment of inspiration from Rashford saw Pogba open the scoring early on for the home side, and the pair added further first-half goals to put United in a commanding position.
Nathan Ake decreased the deficit just before the break, but Romelu Lukaku – back from compassionate leave – marked his return by scoring in the second half, with the only disappointment for the hosts a lat red card for Eric Bailly.
A lightning United start brought the breakthrough after just five minutes – Rashford squirming past Ake out wide before skilfully beating Diego Rico, allowing him to play a teasing ball across the face of goal for Pogba’s simple finish.
United’s dominance told again in the 33rd minute, Pogba heading Ander Herrera’s fine right-wing delivery past the stranded Asmir Begovic.
Rashford deservedly got in on the act when steering home Anthony Martial’s excellent lofted pass, though Ake pulled one back almost straight away, nodding in a David Brooks cross from close range.
Bournemouth tightened up after the interval, though United still managed to restore the three-goal cushion in the 72nd minute when Lukaku latched on to Pogba’s pass and slotted beyond Begovic shortly after replacing Rashford.
The late dismissal for Bailly – who was shown a straight red for a wild lunge on Ryan Fraser – was a blemish for United, but it had little impact on the outcome.
This guy today #MUFC #MUNBOU pic.twitter.com/X3tVYebX2j
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 30, 2018
What does it mean? Pogba looking a different player
Pogba has been transformed since Mourinho departed United. His talent was never in doubt, but once again he appears to be making every attempt to control the midfield, something he rarely seemed capable of before the change in manager. On Sunday, he was everywhere, always looking to be demanding possession. Whatever Solskjaer has said to him, it appears to have done the trick.
Rashford the inspiration
Pogba certainly deserves praise for his performance, but Rashford was the best player on the pitch. Not only did he lead the line effectively, he was a constant threat when drifting out wide as well, as shown by his sublime assist for the opening goal.
Rico the weak link
Bournemouth’s defensive-minded players in a 3-5-2 system struggled, with the left-sided Rico the worst of the bunch. United were at their most threatening down his side, and he was beaten far too easily by Rashford for the first goal. He rarely offered anything going forward from his wing-back role, either.
Solskjaer and United begin 2019 with a trip to Newcastle United on January 2, aiming to make it four wins in a row in the top flight. Bournemouth host Watford the same day.