Paul Pogba’s man-of-the-match display helped bring Manchester United’s turbulent year to a positive end, with Bournemouth comprehensively defeated as caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer oversaw another morale-boosting performance.
The exciting post-Jose Mourinho era continues apace at Old Trafford, where players are now displaying freedom, fluidity and cohesion sorely lacking towards the end of the Portuguese’s reign.
Pogba has enjoyed the starkest change in fortunes. A fortnight on from being an unused substitute in Mourinho’s final match, the midfielder scored twice and set up another as United beat Eddie Howe’s Cherries 4-1 in the final Premier League match of 2018.
United appear liberated by Solskjaer, whose side have scored 12 goals and picked up nine points since his appointment as caretaker manager. Sir Matt Busby and Mourinho are the only others to have won their first three league games as manager of the club.
Solskjaer has certainly brought the feel-good factor back to Old Trafford, where the majority were on their feet within minutes as Marcus Rashford’s dazzling build-up play allowed Pogba to direct home.
The World Cup-winning midfielder then powered home a header to complete his second-successive brace, before Rashford turned home in the dying embers of a first half that ended with Nathan Ake clawing one back.
Bournemouth’s goal underlined the work still required at back for a United side who saw centre-back Eric Bailly sent off for a poor challenge late in proceedings.
Yet the overriding emotion at United is positivity. Substitute Romelu Lukaku completed the scoring after being found by Pogba, who was denied a hat-trick by Asmir Begovic’s superb low save.
The Bournemouth goalkeeper conceded five at Tottenham on Boxing Day and his side’s hopes of a first ever win at Old Trafford were quickly dashed thanks to Rashford’s ingenuity and skill.
The 21-year-old appeared cornered by Ake wide on the right, only to flick past the defender and make a beeline for the box. Rashford’s movement bewildered Diego Rico and his low cross was directed home by Pogba in front of the Stretford End.
It was a lovely goal during a bright start to a backdrop of songs about Solskjaer.
The visitors belatedly began to threaten as the first half reached the midway point, when a hush fell upon Old Trafford as Ake was allowed to get away a close-range header that hit Ander Herrera and then David De Gea.
It was a let-off that sprung United into life.
While Pogba was unable to get a toe on a cross from Anthony Martial, he soon met one from Herrera with gusto as he leapt high at the near post to get his head on the ball before Begovic could get there.
United academy graduate Josh King was denied at the near post as Bournemouth looked to reduce the deficit, only for Martial to soon send over a clipped cross for Rashford to turn home a third just before the break.
There was still time for another goal, though, as Bournemouth pulled one back as David Brooks crossed for Ake to head home in stoppage time.
Half-time took the sting out of proceedings somewhat, although United were still on top as Herrera tried his luck before Begovic denied Rashford.
Lukaku, back from a leave of absence, replaced the limping Rashford with 20 minutes remaining and quickly got in on the goalscoring act.
Pogba sent a lovely ball over the top and – with the linesman failing to call offside – he directed across Begovic as United continued to purr.
There was nearly a fifth in the 75th minute. Jesse Lingard showed excellent close control and composure before pulling back for Pogba to get away a fizzing strike bound for the corner until Begovic tipped the ball onto the post.
It would have been a dream end to the match for United. Instead, an out-of-control challenge from Bailly on substitute Ryan Fraser earned a straight card from referee Lee Mason.
But this was a wholly encouraging day for United – little wonder Sir Alex Ferguson was smiling at full-time.