Manchester United moved a step closer to playing in the Champions League next season when Casemiro’s superb header earned them a 1-0 away win at Bournemouth.
Victory on the south coast, along with Liverpool’s failure to beat Aston Villa, strengthened United’s grip on the top four with two games to play and meant Erik ten Hag is close to achieving his main goal in his first season in charge.
It wasn’t the Ten Hag’s best side, but once they were in front they restricted a spirited and organized Bournemouth to a handful of chances, with David de Gea in form to deny Gary O’Neil’s side whenever they threatened.
A point against Chelsea at Old Trafford on Thursday will ensure the team go into the final day with work to do in the top four.
United took the lead after nine minutes, partly through luck, but the goal was thanks to quick thinking and brilliant improvisation from Casemiro.
Christian Eriksen’s ball into the goal was unintentionally kicked by Marcos Senesi. The defender’s cross struck Casemiro on the side and in one movement he acrobatically turned and curled behind Neto to get United off to the perfect start.
The game settled, with United largely controlling the ball and probing the gaps behind Bournemouth, most of which were well blocked by O’Neil.
Another real chance fell to Dominic Solanke. A long pass landed temptingly at his feet, although the opportunity seemed to have disappeared when Aaron Wan-Bissaka caught him with the ball. But Solanke was undeterred and when he won it back he cut inside United and created space for a low drive which De Gea brilliantly parried.
Casemiro once again attempted a spectacular display as he hit a thunderous first-time drive from 35 yards that Neto did well to keep out.
Overall though, the first half ended with Bournemouth in the ascendancy, Solanke United once again reminding themselves and their team of their threat by heading narrowly over in the final action before the break.
David Brooks, making his first start since being diagnosed with cancer in 2021, tested De Gea’s reflexes minutes after the restart when the goalkeeper lifted an arm to turn a whizzing drive over the bar.
Brooks was substituted shortly afterwards and walked off to a standing ovation at the Vitality Stadium.
United were without top scorer Marcus Rashford, sidelined with an unspecified illness after missing the previous win against Wolves, and their attack lacked a focal point in his absence.
Rashford’s instinctive goalscorer could have gifted Bournemouth an equalizer when Solanke raced the ball to the touchline and sent a cross that rolled inches wide of goal. No one in red and black could keep up with the striker and the ball was carried to safety.
Illya Zabarnyi was in the right place at the right time to tip Bruno Fernandes’ first-time effort over the bar from Wan-Bissaka’s restriction as United briefly probed.
Fernandes palmed Neto on a volley from outside, the keeper needed two strong palms to parry it away.
Dango Ouattara came off the bench to cause problems down United’s left, bursting past Luke Shaw to cross at one point and link up well with Solanke at the next. If Bournemouth were to find a way back, it seemed likely that it would be through the substitutes.
Instead, it was another of O’Neil’s substitutes, Kieffer Moore, who spurned the hosts’ best chance.
Moore’s move was smart to beat only De Gea but his shot was straight at the keeper who saved with his foot.
United’s hearts were in their mouths when Senesi volleyed into the roof of the net in stoppage time.
But the visitors saw the job done and one more point will ensure The Hag can turn their attention to their FA Cup final meeting with Manchester City at Wembley.
Manchester United player ratings (4-2-3-1)
GK: David de Gea – 7/10 – A nice stop to deny Solanke midway through first half and was otherwise a sun-drenched spectator before a late stop to deny Moore.
RB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka – 7/10 – Impressive definitely and flashed a desire to get involved going forwards, even if he couldn’t always pull it off.
CB: Raphael Varane – 6/10 – Was made to work hard by Solanke but largely came out on top.
CB: Victor Lindelof – 7/10 – Excellent interceptions. Always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
LB: Luke Shaw – 7/10 – Dealt well with his defensive work. Fierce defending and satisfactory play going forwards.
DM: Casemiro – 7/10 – A delightful, instinctive finish to put United ahead.
DM: Christian Eriksen – 6/10 – Impressed with the ball at his feet and will unfortunately not be given the assist for Casemiro’s opener. Not always convincing defensively.
RM: Antony – 4/10 – Had a really tough time against Kelly. Didn’t look up for the physical battle at all.
AM: Bruno Fernandes – 5/10 – Didn’t offer enough at all. Some really loose passing which stopped United from getting in their groove.
LM: Jadon Sancho – 5/10 – You could see what Sancho was trying to do but the winger just couldn’t pull it off. Lacked the required energy.
ST: Anthony Martial – 5/10 – Rarely involved and struggled leading the line.
Wout Weghorst (57′ for Martial) – 5/10
Alejandro Garnacho (72′ for Sancho) – 6/10
Scott McTominay (86′ for Eriksen) – N/A
Fred (86′ for Antony) – N/A
Subs not used: Pellistri, Dalot, Maguire, Malacia, Butland
Erik ten Hag – 5/10 – United weren’t particularly good here. Ten Hag’s determination to get something good out of Sancho and Antony left fans frustrated, particularly given Garnacho’s immediate impact after he eventually came on.