By 90Min
December 28, 2018

Manchester United are looking to win a third consecutive Premier League game for the first time this season when Bournemouth visit Old Trafford on Sunday as the calendar year winds to a close.

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for United, with a humbling defeat to Liverpool marking the end of the Jose Mourinho era and new interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer getting off to a flying start after the returning club legend was handed the reins until the end of the season.

Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

United put Cardiff to the sword in a 5-1 thrashing in the final game before Christmas - the club's first five-goal haul in the Premier League since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement game in 2013 - followed by a fairly routine 3-1 victory over Huddersfield on Boxing Day.

In the process, Solskjaer became only the fifth manager in United history to win both of his first two games in charge, joining an elite group of men that includes the little remembered T.J. Wallworth, as well as Matt Busby, Dave Sexton and Jose Mourinho.

Bridging the gap to the top four, which currently stands at eight points, remains the Norwegian's primary objective - there's a reported £2m bonus in it for him if he achieves it - as well as restoring the feel good factor to the club after a soul destroying few months.

United have at least started scoring goals at a reassuring rate of knots given the obvious attacking talent in the squad. And that has been without Alexis Sanchez or Romelu Lukaku, while illness meant that Anthony Martial had to miss out against Huddersfield. There is more to come attacking-wise and the outlook in that respect looks very healthy indeed.

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But Solskjaer is an intelligent coach and isn't blind to the problems that still exist.

United have kept just two clean sheets in 19 Premier League games so far this season and at the halfway stage of 2018/19 have leaked only one fewer goal than they did in the whole of 2017/18. The fact that Cardiff and Huddersfield - the latter are the league's most goal shy team - both got on the score sheet took the sheen off otherwise impressive wins.

United are currently benefitting from a run of playing teams in the bottom half of the Premier League table, one that will continue until they face Tottenham at Wembley on 13th January, but there will come a time when they find it difficult to break an opponent down.

Keeping a clean sheet will always give a team a chance of winning because it only needs one goal to claim all three points. Conceding a goal immediately makes the task twice as difficult.

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Liverpool are a strong example of the need for a good defence. The new league leaders aren't top of the table because they have blown away the opposition in every game, rather because they have thrived on clean sheets to beat Brighton, Huddersfield and Everton 1-0 in fixtures which could easily have resulted in dropped points in slightly different circumstances.

Liverpool have only conceded seven goals in 19 league games this season. At the same stage of last season they had conceded more than three times as many (23) and were as many as 16 points and three place worse off than they are now.

Defensive strength has seen them eliminate results such as the 5-0 and 4-1 thrashings at the hands of Manchester City and Tottenham respectively, and the 3-3 draw with Watford. Equally, results like 1-1 draws against Burnley, Newcastle and Everton have become wins.

No United fan wants to see their team have to emulate Liverpool. But after this United side has found its feet in an attacking sense, defensive resilience is the next crucial step towards a recovery that will see them move back up the table where they belong.

A clean sheet in a win against Bournemouth is how United must now end 2018.

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)