After a farcical few hours at Old Trafford on Sunday, Manchester United and Bournemouth will finally get to complete their Premier League seasons on Tuesday night. A suspect package found inside Manchester United’s stadium shortly before kickoff led to an evacuation of more than 75,000 fans, the postponement of the fixture and a controlled expansion. Hours later, reports broke that it what was a dummy device that had been mistakenly left there days earlier following a training exercise by an external security company.
While Manchester United have steadfastly defended their actions in approaching the situation with the utmost caution, they announced they were refunding all tickets and allowing ticketholders from both United and Bournemouth in for free for Tuesday’s rearranged game. The gesture is set to cost the club £3 million.
On the pitch it is hardly ideal for Manchester United, either. The match now cuts into the preparations of Louis van Gaal’s side for Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley. Originally the players were set to have Tuesday off.
The atmosphere around the game is also set to be considerably different. Had the game been played in its original slot, simultaneously with all other final-day fixtures, United would have approached it knowing that a victory could still have garnered them a place in the Champions League for next season. Now, with Manchester City having grabbed the point they needed at Swansea City on Sunday, United know that fourth place is out of their reach, barring a preposterous 19-goal victory over Bournemouth.
There is still some incentive for Van Gaal’s men, however. A point is required to take them back above Southampton and into fifth place, which will be worth a little over £1.2 million in extra prize money. Should United keep a clean sheet against Bournemouth they will also finish with the best defensive record in this season’s Premier League.
As Van Gaal has repeatedly pointed out of late, though, it is at the other end of the field that the problems lie. After losing the Premier League title on goal difference to Manchester City in 2011, then manager Sir Alex Ferguson vowed never to let that happen again, with a greater focus put on being ruthless in front of goal.
Ferguson, then, must surely be dismayed at what he has witnessed this season, where United could very well lose out on fourth place on goal difference following an insipid goal-scoring record. The club go into their final day of the season with just 46 goals scored in 37 matches. They need to score 12 times to avoid it being their outright worst scoring performance ever in the Premier League era and twice to avoid having a worse record than Sunderland, who only just survived relegation.
Bournemouth’s survival of relegation has long since been secured, a huge triumph for manager Eddie Howe in the club’s first ever season in England’s top flight. Since that goal was effectively assured, Bournemouth’s form, perhaps unsurprisingly, has tailed off. In their last seven fixtures, the south-coast side have taken just four points. But they could yet end the season with another major high having defeated Manchester United in the reverse fixture at the Vitality Stadium last December.
Kickoff Time: 8 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: NBCSN
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra