United at Turf Moor and Job Done.
The Manchester United performance against Burnley on Sunday was just what the doctor ordered. In a season with so many soap opera worthy distractions off the pitch the performance was necessary. With the eyes of the anyone but United world glaring from behind their net curtains to watch us fail, crumble and collapse; United came away with chances taken, defence in tact, solid performances all over the pitch and three points. That’s not to say there wasn’t the odd head in hands moment, and yes, it was against Burnley but United can only beat the team in front of them. In a very welcome sense it was job done.
For the most part United looked comfortable throughout the match at Turf Moor, Victor Lindelof was back from the dead after his crucifixion in previous games, Chris Smalling partnered him in defence and at some points in the first half Marouane Fellaini dropped back in what became a back three. Luke Shaw continued his excellent start to the season, he was positive with his forward play once again and Jesse Lingard looked interested too; he could have scored with a cheeky flick of his boot from a Valencia cross but he was denied. The opening goal eventually came from the most gorgeous Alexis Sanchez cross, it hung in the air and was begging to be headed into Joe Hart’s net, Romelu Lukaku duly obliged and turned to salute his team-mate for the assist.
United soon went in search of their second goal, Lukaku could have had it when he benefited from the counter to a Burnley attack. A square pass was cut out by Luke Shaw who found the striker, breaking forward with Sanchez left and Lingard right, Lukaku went left before receiving the ball back and seeing his shot saved by Joe Hart.
Lukaku was not to be denied for long though and he took his second goal of the afternoon just before half time. After a nice give and go involving Luke Shaw and Alexis Sanchez, Shaw made a forward run before Sanchez back heeled the ball back, Shaw found Lukaku who held the ball up and laid it off to Lingard before backing into space, Lingard’s resulting shot was blocked by Ashley Westwood and it came down invitingly for Lukaku, striking the ball home; Joe Hart was helpless and United went into half time two goals up with very little threat from Burnley.
Marcus Rashford had a day to forget. He came off the bench to replace Sanchez and tried to make a positive impact, he and can be happy with the cross to the far post to set up Chris Smalling’s header – the defender couldn’t make it count. He was also at the centre of the penalty decision too; Valencia’s long ball down field was headed on by Lukaku to Lingard before his return pass enabled Lukaku’s cross into the box. The ball evaded Lingard’s bycle kick but found Rashford who was brought down by Lennon. Paul Pogba missed the resulting penalty.
Rashford’s afternoon came to an early end when he was given a red card for headbutting former United player, Phil Bardsley, who had returned to the Burnley starting line up for this game. Marcus Rashford looked to take the ball down the wing with Bardsley for company, the defender did his job and the ball went out of play but once it had Bardsley kicked out at Rashford who then put his head up close and personal with the defender. The referee had no other option once ‘headbutt’ contact was made, and Marcus will learn to count to ten in such circumstances in the future, it was all a bit unnecessary. Rashford apologised to the United fans after the game, United will be without him for three games once the Premier League returns.
Burnley were arguably lucky to finish with eleven men themselves, after Lukaku held off the attentions of Ben Mee, the Burnley defender seemed to fall conveniently with his arm across the ball knocking it out of the striker’s path though no hand ball was given.
Jose Mourinho once again thought United had done “so so well” (he likes so so at the moment, it seems to be his go to phrase). The manager talked about how the match reminded him of the Spurs game, “but today we score!”. “Everybody had the correct approach” he said, before praising once again the United faithful, saying that the “performance and happiness is Old Trafford’s responsibility” – feeling that the positivity and unity given to the team during the Spurs defeat was carried into the Burnley game.
Support for the team and the manager should have never really in doubt amongst the majority of United’s fans but Jose continues to say and do the right things and only looks to strengthen his relationship with the red and white army. Some reading this now will see it as a move of fan manipulation by a man unsecure in the hot seat, but it is continuing and strengthening a United voice at a time one is absolutely needed. The fans are with Jose. The fans will be with with the team, everything else secondary.
On the pitch on Sunday Mourinho’s team were doing the right things, Fellaini (92%), Pogba (89%) and Matic (86%) had excellent pass completion stats according to the official website; 21 shots and 9 on target suggest that whatever plans are made during training might be bearing fruit on match day. The passing looked crisper, the play looked sharper, we had ideas when we had possession. Marouane Fellaini was pivotal to United on Sunday. While we salute players for their new-found attitude, or perhaps beg a certain French midfielder to find a better attitude, the big Belgian in the middle should not go un-noticed, he has done everything asked of him and done it well. We can be glad he has signed a new United contract, he deserves it.
Elswhere, Romelu Lukaku took his chances and should have had a hatrick, Lingard and Sanchez were involved and tricky and the boss was very happy with the defensive display of Smalling and Lindelof at the back. Luke Shaw can be proud of himself for this whole opening month, not just on Sunday where he valiantly copped a yellow card for the cause to break down a counter attack after Lukaku’s shot on goal. Low key it may have been but it is an indicator of a team pulling together.
It may have been Burnley (they only had 2 shots on target from 9 in total), but the confidence all round, can help us throughout the season and can be crucial when the bigger challenges come. GTS
© 2018 Simon Andrew Moult / Moultymedia.