In a shocking night of football, Burnley beat Manchester United 0-2 at Old Trafford.
The win moved Burnley seven points clear of relegation and stopped United from closing the gap to Chelsea in fourth. The Red Devils remain six points back in the race for Champions League places. What did we learn?
1. Don’t Doubt Dyche
Burnley headed into the weekend’s match with Leicester having lost their last four Premier League games. They were in terrible form, just four points off the relegation zone, and with Ashley Barnes out injured many wondered what they were going to do. Then they beat Leicester 2-1 with an impressive second-half fightback. But that was at home, now they had to travel to Old Trafford, a ground where they haven’t won since 1962, and face a team that beat them 0-2 at Turf Moor less than a month ago and whom Sean Dyche has never beaten in nine attempts.
So of course Burnley rocked up in Manchester, played the game their way on their terms and walked away with a historic 0-2 victory, returning the scoreline to United and sending the fans streaming out of Old Trafford in their droves. Sean Dyche is a manager whose ability to get his team playing in harmony under a singular vision is appreciated enough. Dyche has taken Burnley and, on a relatively modest budget turned them into bonafide Premier League side. One who can, on their day, go toe-to-toe with titans of the English game.
Please, can we stop doubting Sean Dyche? The man is the truth.
2. Maguire has got to do more
Harry Maguire is the most expensive centre-back in the world. The Englishman cost Manchester United £80m in the summer as they signed him from Leicester. Now, the price was due to a variety of factors none of which are really Maguire’s fault, but when you consider that the record fee before that was the £75m Liverpool paid for Virgil van Dijk, you can’t fault the United fans for expecting more than what Maguire regularly delivers.
The Englishman shone for Leicester and England, but has brought none of that assertive play to Old Trafford. He has yet to score for United where he was a devastating presence for his previous side. And in terms of defence he seems to be much more leaden-footed than he he ever was in blue or white. Chris Wood’s goal was a nice finish and everything but the ease with which the big man outmanoeuvred Maguire had to be a massive concern for anyone watching the goal.
There’s no doubt that Maguire has the talent to do better, but for whatever reason the world’s most expensive defender – and new Manchester United captain – has to do so much more to lift his new team up to the level they desire to be at.
3. David de Where?
Not since Fernando Torres a decade ago has a world-class player suffered such a ridiculous and drastic drop in ability as David de Gea is currently undergoing. And unlike Torres this Spanish sensation hasn’t even been blighted by injury. No. De Gea’s performances have just vanished into the ether.
The goalkeeper who was so fundamental to Manchester United finishing second in 2017/18 has, since the 2018 World Cup, just look horrendous. Tonight against Burnley he was beaten twice at his near-post, and although he could do nothing about the first goal the lack of speed to get across goal and save Jay Rodriguez’s long-range effort was… staggering.
De Gea’s fall from grace is so total that he is probably just the third-best goalkeeper contracted to Manchester United. Lagging behind his own back-up Sergio Romero as well as Sheffield United’s Dean Henderson (who is on-loan from United). He looks absolutely finished.
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4. United miss more than just Rashford’s goals
Marcus Rashford is Manchester United’s top scorer this season with 19 goals. So on the face of it, his months-long absence through injury robs The Red Devils of goals. This is definitely true, but the Englishman’s absence hurts United in more ways than the lack of goals.
Against Burnley we saw Sean Dyche’s men camp in and defend deep. In response to this, United tried to break them down but couldn’t produce anything beyond a couple of great crosses from Aaron Wan-Bissaka. This is almost where United miss Rashford the most; the Englishman is a constant source of threat with his pace.
Rashford’s penetrative runs both and off the ball create such havoc for United’s opponents that, given United are lacking a true no. 10, the entire of the side’s attack often revolves around giving him the ball and letting him freestyle.
5. “It’s an embarrassment”
After the match Rio Ferdinand said, of Man Utd’s performance and the fans leaving Old Trafford early, “it’s an embarrassment.” That seems harsh, but it’s so true. Manchester United do not look like a side that is being coached in any modern sense of the word. They play with a massive disconnect in attack, making things up as they go in the final third. Even in the middle third they rely massively on Fred freestyling to actually move the ball from front to back.
It’s hard to judge Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when he’s been without Paul Pogba basically all season and is currently lacking midfield muscle Scott McTominay and his best striker in Marcus Rashford. And in addition to that, he has not been backed in the transfer market at all. Yes United spent big on Maguire and Wan-Bissaka (who was excellent tonight) but they neglected to sign him the midfielders (plural) and striker the side is crying out for. The United squad was such a mess it needed a whole heap of transfers to sort it out, and Ed Woodward is allegedly still haggling over money in United’s pursuit of Bruno Fernandes.
But, again, Manchester United do not look like they’re being coached. They appear on the pitch as 11 strangers making it up as they go. That was true even when Rashford and McTominay were carrying the side to good results and it’s even more true now those two are absent.
Do United need to get rid of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Probably. Mauricio Pochettino is out there, without a job, and has the kind of proven track record of developing players that Solskjaer doesn’t. Do United need a director of football? Absolutely. Luis Campos, the man who discovered Kylian Mbappé and Bernardo Silva, is allegedly the favourite – but what’s the hold-up?
There is so much wrong with Manchester United right now that the only thing you can say, honestly, is exactly what Rio Ferdinand did: “it’s an embarrassment.”