In a classically tight afternoon of football, Manchester United overcame Burnley 3-1 at Old Trafford.
This was United’s first home win against Burnley in six years and moves them to within 8 points of Man City. What did we learn?
1. Mason Greenwood is whoa
When Manchester United needed a hero to stand up and be counted against the massed ranks for Burnley defenders blocking their path to goal, they sent for Edinson Cavani. And while the Uruguayan did eventually get on the scoresheet, he only did so when his young strike partner had already won the game for United.
Greenwood started up-front but owing to United’s lack of creativity, didn’t get much service. In fact he’s so used to feeding off scraps that when Marcus Rashford did put it on a plate for him, the striker wasn’t ready for it.
Mason Greenwood has scored twice in a Premier League game for the second time in his career.
His fourth goal in his last three Premier League games. pic.twitter.com/VHdAy4oc3X
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 18, 2021
In the second-half, however, he didn’t hesitate. A delicious pass from Marcus Rashford and a dummy from Bruno Fernandes gave hm a clean shot at goal and he thundered it in. And then later after Burnley’s equaliser he was a constant menace with his dribbling and crossing, but finally settled things by cutting inside and once again smashing the ball into the back of the net (albeit via a deflection).
That makes it five goals in his last six games for Manchester United and a striker who had been lambasted for his low goal tally this season is finding form at the right moment proving that he was and is an elite football prospect. Without their no. 11 there is no doubt United would have fallen to defeat today.
With his brace he has equalled Wayne Rooney’s record of goals scored as a teenager for Manchester United. One more and the record is all his own despite struggling in front of goal. Imagine how far ahead he’d already be if he hit the ground running? There can be no doubt to his quality now. Mason Greenwood is talented. Mason Greenwood is decisive. Basically, Mason Greenwood is whoa.
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2. Old Dycheford is no more
Burnley have rarely been among the most dazzling teams in the Premier League, but their record at Old Trafford would stand comparison with anyone else in the world game. The Clarets last lost at the Theatre of Dreams in 2015, a 3-1 defeat where Chris Smalling scored twice, to give you an idea of how long ago it was.
Since then they had played four games away to Manchester United and never tasted defeat. Three draws, a 0-0 and two 2-2’s, was followed last season by an improbable 0-2 win. Sean Dyche has absolutely figured out how to take the game to United on their own turf in a manner more consistent than any other opponent.
1000 – James Tarkowski's equaliser was the 1000th goal Manchester United have conceded in the Premier League, and came just 114 seconds after the Red Devils had opened the scoring. Short-lived. pic.twitter.com/5T1d6NDg8f
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 18, 2021
Burnley sit deep with two banks of four, they hold their shape and only press when United approach their box. They funnel play wide where they are confident that any crosses which come in will be handled by their colossal centre-backs. And then they rely on their forwards relishing the big stage to expose United’s notoriously flimsy transition defence. It’s a simple formula but one that is incredibly effective.
And this afternoon they came so close to a fifth straight game at Old Trafford without defeat. They scored seconds into the game only for VAR to bail United out, but Burnley regrouped and battled on equal footing with United. They were just as much in the game as their hosts and only lost out late on to a deflected Greenwood strike.
3. Rashford needs care
Marcus Rashford ended today’s game with one assist and two absolutely outstanding moments of skill (one in the lead-up to United’s opening goal, the other a delicious flip-flap) to his name. He also ended it limping off the field and being replaced by Donny van de Beek with United still very much chasing the result.
Marcus Rashford’s game by numbers vs. Burnley:
12 touches in opp. box (most)
4 take-ons (most)
4 duels won
3 chances created
2 big chances created (most)
1 shot on target
His eighth Premier League assist of the season. pic.twitter.com/rvB2xnT32J
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 18, 2021
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke before kick-off of how Rashford was “fine” and ready to play but that he yet again had to be subbed off, he clearly isn’t. That’s six of his last seven starts that have seen him come off, because every time they rush him back from injury rather than give him an extended period of rest to fully recover.
4. United really need a defensive midfielder
As we’ve seen lately, with Paul Pogba pushed into more advanced roles, the Frenchman is at his best when not given too much defending to do. He can play in the double pivot, but it’s not where he thrives.
Similarly, Scott McTominay is at his best when allowed to play a rampaging box-to-box role. And Fred too, needs to be unleashed to run and roam and tackle. None of them are true holding midfielders who can excel at the base of midfield, distributing the ball all around the pitch to his team-mates and keeping his side on the front-foot. And as a result, United are too easy to stifle for stubborn sides like Burnley.
Yes they won 3-1 in the end but their performance was nothing like that assured and without some lucky breaks this would have been yet another draw for the Clarets at Old Trafford. A defensive midfielder who can play would make United a genuinely impossible prospect to defend, one that could cut open teams like Burnley without having to rely on lucky deflections or penalties.
5. A (tentative) title race awaits
Manchester United are back in the title picture for the 2020/21 Premier League! Well, somewhat.
8 points now separates Manchester United and Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table. With six games to go and 18 points to play for, that’s a decent sized gap but not anything that can’t be bridged especially when City have still got to play Chelsea and Everton and juggle league games along with a Carabao Cup final and Champions League semi-final.
It would need to City to drop points soon, obviously, but with their tight fixture list and mounting injuries and poor form taking its toll on their impressive squad, you just never know.