The contrasting fortunes of Manchester United and Bournemouth since the Premier League’s restart couldn’t be any more drastic. While Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side have hit the ground running with a morale-boosting sequence of four wins and a draw in all competitions, any sense of positivity has long since evaporated on the South Coast.
Eddie Howe’s outfit have lost each of their last four fixtures, a run of games that has been notable for just how poorly Bournemouth have performed. While there was an element of defensive resilience against Wolverhampton Wanderers and a glimmer of hope from the two goals scored against Manchester United at the weekend, dispiriting defeats to Crystal Palace and Newcastle United (a particularly painful 4-1 homer loss) have made the Cherries relegation favourites.
The repercussions of dropping out of the top flight – especially in a post-coronavirus economy – will surely necessitate a fire sale at the Vitality Stadium. With average crowds of around the 10,500 mark, Bournemouth’s business model is built on the TV revenue that comes with a place in the Premier League. It’s hard to imagine they will have the resources to retain their star names if they finish in the bottom three when the season concludes.
Solskjær will be watching with interest as that situation unfolds. The Manchester United manager’s job has never been more secure and there’s a feeling around Old Trafford things have finally started to click under the Norwegian. Three-goal demolitions of Sheffield United and Brighton & Hove Albion, and Saturday’s 5-2 dismantling of Bournemouth certainly suggest that his side heading in the right direction.
The Red Devils may only be a handful of signings away from challenging Liverpool and Manchester City for domestic titles once again and two of Bournemouth’s most prize assets could be set to play a part in Solskjær’s rebuilding project.
United have had a long-standing interest in Cherries forward Josh King, having launched a bid for the Norwegian international in January before eventually opting to move for Odion Ighalo when their offer was rejected.
Reports suggest King will be made available this summer regardless of the division Bournemouth find themselves in. The Cherries are desperate to cash in on the 28-year-old before his contract expires in 2021.
It would be no surprise if Manchester United revived their interest over the coming months. But King may not be the only player about to swap the sunny South Coast for Salford.
Defender Nathan Aké is another name in the frame after Solskjær appeared to be caught on camera telling the Dutchman that they “need a left-footed centre-back” when the sides met last weekend.
Both players could undoubtedly add something to United’s squad. In the case of King – a player who would relish a return to his former club and a chance to link up with his countryman Solskjær – it would be a budget-friendly forward to add depth in attack and proven Premier League experience.
His 49 goals in 156 matches for Bournemouth are nothing to be sniffed at when you consider that he has often played out wide and isn’t turning out for one of the division’s top sides.
A shooting accuracy of 52.38 per cent this season is only bettered by 12 other Premier League players, adding weight to the theory King’s goal tally could markedly improve he was surrounded by the creative talents of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.
Much of Manchester United’s success this season has been on the counter-attack, so King’s pace and willingness to run at defenders would be another useful tool in their armoury. His 4.62 take ons per 90 in 2019/20 is the 12th best record in the top flight and a completion rate of 2.39 per 90 is a respectable return too.
In all likelihood, King would mostly be a rotation option for United. But team-mate Aké looks ready to go straight into the Red Devils’ first XI.
The 25-year-old is valued at around £40million and has been heavily linked with a return to Chelsea or a move to Manchester City in recent months. It would, therefore, be something of a coup if United were able to secure his services following another impressive campaign despite Bournemouth’s struggles.
In a backline that has often been under intense pressure, Aké has completed an average of 5.27 clearances and 2.8 headed clearances per 90, while also blocking 0.95 shots per match. All of those records fall inside the Premier League’s top 20 players, reflecting the elite level of the defender’s performances week in, week out.
When you factor in Aké’s ability with the ball at his feet (his passing accuracy is an impressive 88.11 per cent), it becomes clear this is a player who is finally ready to make his mark as a top-six club.
The departures of Aké and King will be a blow to Bournemouth, but their loss would be Manchester United’s gain. Solskjær needs new blood at the back and increased options in attack – he could do far worse than adding the Cherries duo to his ranks.