Manchester United lost further ground in the Premier League, dropping points at home to Burnley on Boxing Day. It could have been much worse however, as only a stoppage time equalizer from super-sub Jesse Lingard saved the Reds from an embarrassing home defeat.
After making what José Mourinho called “childish” mistakes to drop points against Leicester City, United fans would’ve been hoping for a response from their team; hopefully a return to the solidity and ruthlessness that marked the early weeks of the season. Instead, the Reds got off to a nightmare start, conceding the opening goal before a United player had barely kicked a ball in anger.
With just 90 seconds gone, Marcos Rojo conceded a free-kick at the edge of the box, and picked up a yellow card in the process. The ensuing delivery from Johann Berg Gudmundsson was not cleared, and Ashley Barnes was on hand to poke the visitors in front.
United responded to the goal positively enough, and within 20 minutes, Nick Pope was twice called into action to deny efforts from Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba, and Juan Mata had a goal-bound shot blocked by a defender. For all of United’s pressing and attacking intent, their defending had not gotten any better, and it was Burnley who struck next.
It was now Ashley Young’s turn to concede an avoidable free kick in a dangerous area. But when Burnley yet again scored from the 36th minute set piece, poor defending wasn’t to blame this time at least. Steven Defour curled an unstoppable effort over the wall and into the top corner to make it 2-0 to the visitors.
On the other end, Burnley were living up to their reputation. Whether by luck or design, Sean Dyche’s side are the best shot-blocking team in the lead, and twice after doubling their lead a Burnley defender got his body in the way of a shot on target, to maintain the two goal advantage going into the break.
Needing a drastic reaction from his team, Mourinho made a tactical reshuffle at halftime. The experiment of playing Zlatan Ibrahimović behind Romelu Lukaku was ended prematurely, with Lingard coming on in place of the Swede. Henrikh Mkhitaryan also replaced Rojo, a move that pushed Nemanja Matić into the backline.
Just 5 minutes after the restart, the attacking changes almost paid dividends. United had begun attacking in waves, and Lingard’s effort from just a few yards out came off the face of Pope and then the crossbar. Lingard would not be denied three minutes later. A low cross from Ashley Young was slightly behind the substitute, but he cleverly used the heel of his back foot to redirect the ball into the far corner. United were now back in the match, and streaming forward relentlessly.
In the 69th minute, United did put the ball in the back of the net, but the free kick - won by Mkhitaryan just outside the area - had been taken too quickly for the referee’s liking. Pogba’s eventual direct effort flew just over the bar. The Reds now had more than 70% of possession and were besieging Burnley’s penalty box, but the Clarets were continuing to hold firm. United’s offensive tempo was impressive, but there was a predictability to the attacks, and Pope was rarely called upon, in truth.
In the 90th minute, United’s equalizer finally came, and it was that man Jesse Lingard yet again. A free kick from Mata in the opening seconds of injury time was not fully cleared, and after bouncing around, the ball fell to Lingard. The in-form attacker hit the ball first time on the half-volley into the bottom corner to draw United level.