First it was criticism of Manchester United’s playing style. Then came the team’s limp exit at the Champions League group stage. On Saturday, it was a loss to tiny Bournemouth in one of the Premier League’s biggest-ever mismatches.
The problems are stacking up for under-pressure United manager Louis van Gaal in his second season in charge of England’s biggest club.
United — depleted by a wretched run of injuries to senior players — conceded directly from a corner in the second minute on its way to a humbling 2-1 loss at Bournemouth, the latest shock result in a season of surprises in the Premier League.
Earlier Saturday, Manchester City had needed a huge deflected goal just to get a 2-1 home win over Swansea, which is without a manager and on one of the worst run of results in the league. City went top on goal difference, for one day at least.
Bournemouth’s first season in the top flight is starting to get better and better. The little coastal club that almost dropped out of the country’s professional leagues six years ago beat Chelsea 1-0 away last weekend for what ranked as the biggest win in its 116-year history.
Saturday’s win may just top the result at Stamford Bridge — although some will say it’s no shock, given United’s recent struggles and its extensive injury list. But that won’t stop a deluge of criticism toward Van Gaal.
“It’s a matter of belief, if you believe in the manager or not,” said the Dutchman, who said Friday that United had to get used to no longer being one of Europe’s superpowers after its elimination from the Champions League this week.
In front of 11,500 fans in Bournemouth’s cramped and atmospheric Vitality Stadium, United went behind when Junior Stanislas’ curling corner kick sailed directly into the far corner.
Marouane Fellaini equalized but more embarrassment for United at a 54th-minute corner handed Bournemouth victory, with Josh King finding himself in lots of space to turn in a shot from a pre-planned corner routine.
“For us, it’s a brilliant week,” Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe said. This time six years ago, Bournemouth lost 5-0 to Morecambe in a fourth-tier match.
For all its worries, United is still very much in the title race and only three points behind City, which is still failing to convince.
Yaya Toure’s shot in the second minute of injury time struck young substitute Kelechi Iheanacho and looped into the net as City escaped with a win from an unconvincing display against Swansea at Etihad Stadium.
Swansea couldn’t have picked a much tougher game following the firing of Garry Monk on Thursday, but looked set to leave with a point after Bafetimbi Gomis equalized in the 90th minute. Wilfried Bony, who left Swansea for 25 million pounds ($38 million) in January, put City in front with a 26th-minute header.
“We really didn’t play well in the game,” said City manager Manuel Pellegrini, who blamed the lackluster performance on a comedown after the team finished top of its Champions League group in midweek.
City, however, finds itself top — at least until Arsenal, which started the weekend in second place and a point ahead of City, plays Aston Villa on Sunday. Leicester looks to retain its surprise lead by beating Chelsea on Monday.
Elsewhere, Romelu Lukaku scored for the sixth league game in a row for Everton in a 1-1 draw at Norwich and another in-form striker, Odion Ighalo, grabbed Watford’s winner in a 1-0 victory at Sunderland. It was Ighalo’s 10th goal of the season, while Lukaku has 12.
Crystal Palace beat Southampton 1-0 thanks to France midfielder Yohan Cabaye’s first-half goal, while West Ham and Stoke drew 0-0.
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