Manchester United saw off Burnley at Old Trafford to move into third place in the table. The game, however, was not as comfortable as the score line may suggest.
Phil Jones’ promising run of consecutive injury-free games came to an end after 5 minutes, when he was replaced by the pivotal Chris Smalling who scored immediately with his first touch. The goal came from a deep Rooney corner which was headed back across goal by Radamel Falcao, met by Chris Smalling who then looped a header over Burnley keeper, and former United man, Tom Heaton.
After a strong United start, Burnley didn’t lose confidence and following a sloppy Di Maria pass they capitalised with a neat counter attack down the right hand side which resulted in an inch perfect cross from Kieran Tripper that was nodded home by on-form striker Danny Ings.
Following the equaliser United struggled to regain control of the game with a series of unforced errors and misplaced passes out from the back and in midfield. Burnley continued to find joy on the right flank, finding gaps and creating the most chances. United’s make-shift defence, comprising of 4 natural centre backs, looked vulnerable.
LVG was forced into his 2nd first half substitution as Daley Blind, after 24 minutes, also came off injured and was replaced by Ander Herrera. Wayne Rooney was deployed to holding midfield; his fourth different position of the season.
The game remained open as United struggled to string passes together – Burnley, looking the more confident side, continued to exploit United’s errors and create chances. Although their work rate was high, stikers Falcao and Van Persie’s frustrations with their lack of service grew as they were forced to come deep to find the ball when gaps in the pitch widened.
Despite having half the amount of attempts on goal and playing a lot fewer passes in attacking areas, United found the net through unlikely source Chris Smalling again. This time a well-worked short corner was eventually whipped in by Di Maria and tidily tucked away by the defender for his 3rd league goal of the season. United went into the half 2-1 up; rather against the run of play.
After regrouping at half time, United were a lot brighter the second half despite early scare when a misplaced Rooney pass and lack of communication at the back forced yet another great stop from David De Gea to save United’s blushes.
The home side grew into the half and found particular joy with Di Maria on the flank who showed moments of superb footwork, running at the defenders.
Ball retention improved as time went on from United, however, there were very few chances being created which resulted in needless yellow cards out of frustration from Falcao, Di Maria and James Wilson (who replaced Falcao after 73 minutes to inject much needed energy and pace into the attack).
The final goal came from the penalty spot on 82 minutes after another winding run from wide positions, Di Maria was clumsily taken down by Scott Arfield. Robin Van Persie stepped up and slotted home United’s first penalty of the season. Game over.
It seems an all too recurring theme, as Louis Van Gaal will be pleased with the result but not so pleased with the performance, particularly in the first half. The win takes United into 3rd position in the League as Southampton were held to a draw at home vs West Ham.
The reds will be looking to build on their win on Monday evening when they play Preston North End at Deepdale with an FA Cup quarter final place up for grabs.