They Walked In Line

Burnley v Manchester United - Premier League - Turf Moor

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.

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Mourinho’s Red and White army!

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.

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Shell Shock (Spurs p1)

Seconds after kick off against Tottenham last night, it all looked like it was going to be ok. From kick off Tony Valencia had the ball wide, he sent it forward, Lingard jumped to nod the ball onto Fred and Fred’s attempt went wide of the post. It was a signal of intent from a player and team that needed to come out and show something after the disaster at Brighton. Mourinho made six changes, back came Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Herrera and Matic and we were led to believe they would probably line up in a 4-3-3 but Jose kept everyone on their toes; Ander Herrera started more defensively, Pogba alongside Matic in midfield and we’d clearly be demanding a lot of Valencia and Shaw for the width. Jesse Lingard started as part of a front two with Lukaku. It seemed like a positive and confident statement from a manager knowing his team would be under the lens, but then you might well ask yourself, when aren’t Manchester United under the lens.

 

Sixteen minutes into the first half, it all looked like it was going to be ok. With Spurs in possession the ball found Danny Rose who made an instinctive pass back to his keeper, the pass was too short and Lukaku pounced, taking it round Hugo Lloris but with an empty net to aim at the United number nine sent the ball agonisingly wide. It looked odds on a goal but Spurs escaped. There was enough evidence early on to show us that there would be no hangover from last week’s trip to the seaside. The players seemed to believe the breakthrough was coming and because they believed, the crowd believed, and the crowd fed the players and United flowed forward in ways we hadn’t seen too often under Mourinho. Nemanja Matic broke up a Spurs attack on the edge of the United box, Pogba looped the ball into the air towards Luke Shaw and Shaw played a lucky one two off a Spurs man’s leg then found Jesse Lingard and continued his run down the wing for the return pass; Shaw’s cross found Romelu Lukaku but the shot was sent into Hugo Lloris.

Fred seemed to pop up everywhere, Lingard was excited, Shaw had purpose, Matic was sensible; dare I say it even Paul Pogba seemed to be doing his job, there seemed to be only one way this was going to go. United were doing enough surely, it would come, wouldn’t it? The fact United were unable to find the net during a 20-30 minute period in which they were very much on top was a concern. The fact that Lucas Moura had become more present in the game and therefore increasingly annoying, was a concern. Ander Herrera received a yellow for giving the Brazilian his full attention and David De Gea’s kick out only just cleared his head, Matic had the ball mugged off him when he wanted an hour with it, Dele Alli would have got a shot away if it had not been for Chris Smalling denying him the opportunity. Spurs had apparently soaked up all they were willing to and now saw chances to play into the game. Lucas Moura again threatened to put Spurs ahead going like a ferrari with Phil Jones for company. Jones made contact and was lucky the official wanted no part of it, Moura was knocking on the door and would not be denied all night. United continued though, Fred curled an effort wide, he then went on to set up Pogba for a shot which Lloris saved; Matic’s effort from the return cross looked as if it was going to loop into the net but it didn’t. There were signs of this becoming a game for either side to take hold of, but as the clock ticked into the last 15 minutes of the first half there was no sign of the carnage that was to follow.

 

When Tottenham appeared in the second half it was as if they believed they had withstood everything United had, and having gone in level at the break when they could have and should have been behind, they were now going to push on and see what they could get. Harry Kane fizzed a shot or a cross into the danger area, De Gea might have been aware that Lucas Moura was ready to pounce and got a hand to the ball flicking it clear but just over the head (again) of the Brazilian. Lingard looked to attack into the Stretford End as both teams looked for the advantage and thats where this ends as a contest.

 

The visiting side made the breakthrough; Dele Alli was found in space and when the ball hit Chris Smalling and went out for a corner, everything United had built about to be taken apart. Harry Kane’s looping header in the 50th minute looked like the simplest thing in the world. United had kept him largely silent up to this point and I dare say Phil Jones thought he had done his job but the World Cup golden boot winner backed off Jones and sent the ball into the net beautifully. David De Gea and Romelu Lukaku could only watch and United were one down. Within 2 minutes and 12 seconds later Lucas Moira got the goal his quality display deserved but unbelievably and undeservedly, United were two down.
From a United point of view it now became about asking questions of Spurs and seeing if we could get ourselves a goal. Whenever that occurred, if indeed it could, would determine what we could get out of this game. Unlike the Brighton game when United never even looked like recovering from the shell shock, at Old Trafford on Monday night they did keep their heads high. Phil Jones was hauled off injured and was understandably frustrated by it, Lindelof came on as his replacement and we all collectively hoped that other Victor would turn up; the one that looked half decent in his displays for Sweden and not the one that was had on toast in against Brighton. Matic came off and Fellaini came on, perhaps surprising some who might well have wanted Rashford in the hunt for goals. Ander Herrera had already been sacrificed to see what Alexis Sanchez had to offer.

Sanchez was into the action quickly enough, his long ball was nodded down into Lingard’s path, the ball couldn’t settle and the shot went over for a corner but United soon found their way forward again; Fred’s pass across to Pogba sent the Frenchman back a bit to collect and the cross deflected for a corner but the Stretford End still roared. United kept possession, Spurs tried to push out from their area and Luke Shaw kept the ball going in the right direction. Paul Pogba won a free kick which Fred took and sent to the post but Lindelof’s header failed to trouble anyone.

Victor Lindelof was about to answer the question United fans asked when he came on, this was the performance of a man visibly short of confidence, rightfully roasted and shrinking before our very eyes. Jamie Carragher all but wrote his United obituary after the game and when he nearly gifted Spurs a third goal, you can’t really argue with that assesment. Spurs’ Danny Rose had played his own keeper into similar trouble in the first half, Lindelof’s pass back was more central but equally as weak and needed David De Gea to sprint into action. Dele Alli was pushed wide and couldn’t glide round our keeper as he wanted to, De Gea then saved the resulting shot and earned the thanks of a sheepish Swedish defender. If Victor Lindelof is going to make it at Manchester United he is going to have to improve far beyond what we have seen this month. Perhaps in past seasons he would be able to grow into United without the spotlight but this is the way things are currently and he’s getting asked questions in front of a critical audience. It’s perhaps unfair but some will doubt that he can improve. He remains one of our defensive options so he has until January.

It looked unlikely United would be scoring, one move pretty much encapsulated the home team’s evening when Luke Shaw sent ball fizzing goalwards goalwards and Lukaku narrowly avoided making contact with his head. Frequently the ball was in the right areas, Tottenham constantly trying to send it away and United continuing to ask questions. I have the feeling they could have been there on Tuesday morning and still the ball would not have found the net.
On Monday night the final flicker of United hope was extinguished fittingly by Lucas Moura, a thorn in our side all night. Spurs were clearing from a United attack, the ball bounced over Fred and fell for Kane who played in Lucas Moura; Moura accelerated away from Chris Smalling, who did attempt a tackle more in hope than expectation before Moura finished lethally.
A United performance that promised so much and looked for most of the first half like it would deliver, in the end gave us nothing. 3 – 0 is probably unfair, and does not tell the full story of the match but it does tell the story of a football club. There are lots of things to be positive about (Shaw for one) but there are negatives we are all too aware of will not go away and as a football club we will remain under the microscope. GTS

 

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Mourinho headed straight for Shaw at the final whistle. United’s left back can be proud of his performance on Monday night.

 

© 2018 Simon Andrew Moult / Moultymedia. Many thanks for your support.