Manchester United defender Luke Shaw says the “belief and confidence” is back at Old Trafford after they stretched their winning run in all competitions to six games with a comfortable victory over a hapless Bournemouth in the Premier League.
Midfielder Casemiro latched onto a Christian Eriksen free-kick with a beautifully cushioned volley to put Erik ten Hag’s side ahead half way through the first half.
They doubled their lead four minutes into the second period as Shaw, playing in his more accustomed left-back role again, swept home an Alejandro Garnacho cut-back to complete a beautiful free-flowing move.
Marcus Rashford then rounded off the scoring, tapping into an empty net after a Bruno Fernandes pass, to score in three successive Old Trafford league games for the first time.
“The strides we are taking are going in the right direction that we want,” said Shaw. “There is still a lot to improve on but things are looking really good and positive.
“We feel like the belief and confidence is back, and you can feel it around the place, not just with the players and the staff but you can feel it in the stadium and around the fans.
“Hopefully they are enjoying it at the moment but I feel there is a lot more to come and hopefully we can keep putting smiles on people’s faces.”
United had started slowly, having a lot of possession in their defensive third but, once they found the opener, a seventh successive home win in all competitions never felt in doubt.
They stay fourth, but join third-placed Newcastle on 35 points, and, perhaps most importantly, have opened up a five-point cushion on fifth-placed Tottenham.
One negative for United was a first-half injury sustained by midfielder Donny van de Beek, with Ten Hag saying “we need to wait 24 hours, but it is not looking very good”.
Bournemouth, who failed to have a shot on target until the 57th minute, stay 15th, two points clear of the relegation places.
Casemiro delivers for ever-improving United
It took time for £70m man Casemiro to make his mark at Old Trafford, with the 30-year-old not starting any of his first seven Premier League games after joining from Real Madrid.
Questions were asked about whether he was a Ten Hag signing, but he has started the Reds’ past 10 Premier League games – a run which has seven wins and two draws, alongside a defeat at Aston Villa.
His finish, a cushioned volley from seven yards, was a touch of class. He ghosted in behind the Bournemouth defence, opened his body and steered Eriksen’s pinpoint cross from the left into the top corner.
It broke the game open after a tentative start and that allowed Shaw to score a magnificent end-to-end goal. The England left-back started the move on the edge of his own box, before tucking home from the penalty spot.
Rashford was then supplied with the easiest of finishes for his fourth goal in four games since the post-World Cup resumption.
United host neighbours Man City in their next league game on 14 January, and could end that game above their city rivals, which would be a strong indication of the improvement they are making under Ten Hag.
Despite that the Dutchman was unhappy with his side’s display, saying: “Today it was not our best game. We have to be honest, we didn’t play that smart as a team.
“We made great goals, but at times we were quite lucky, and some great saves from David [de Gea]. We could have been smarter as a team.”
Nervy times for Bournemouth
Games against the likes of United are not going to decide Bournemouth’s Premier League future, but manager Gary O’Neil wanted a reaction after “the worst” performance of his reign against Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve.
Speaking to BBC Match of the Day post-match, O’Neil said “that was us”, adding he was “pleased with the performance”.
“It wasn’t a 3-0 game,” said O’Neil. “I think we had maybe six or seven chances but obviously Manchester United had some as well.
“We need to be sure that we produce that every week.”
To concede from a set-piece, after limiting United in the early exchanges, will frustrate O’Neil, as will a goal so close to his half-time team talk.
The second goal did seem to wake Bournemouth up, with three shots on target following in a minute, but there will surely be doubt creeping in on the south coast, despite new chairman Bill Foley insisting the Cherries “will not be relegated” last week.
Funds are available for new players in the January transfer window, and a creative spark will likely feature high on O’Neil’s wishlist with the Cherries looking toothless for large periods.