Off to their worst start since 1992, Manchester United travel to Burnley this weekend in search of much-needed answers. Back-to-back losses to Brighton and Tottenham Hotspur leave the Reds in 13th place and desperate for improvement. Remarkably, Monday’s 3-0 rout by Spurs ranks as the worst home loss in José Mourinho’s managerial career.
The United players, though, are looking on the bright side. “Even we don’t know understand what happened,” Paul Pogba told the Daily Express. “I think it was an undeserved defeat, but football can be cruel. We just have to bounce back.”
Ander Herrera joined his teammate in rueing the many missed chances early on. “We did a good 60 or 70 minutes and should have been winning 2-0 at halftime, but we didn't,” he explained to Sky Sports. “If we want to win the next game against Burnley, this is the commitment we should have. This is the way we have to play.”
Mourinho made six changes for the Spurs match and will probably shake things up again at Turf Moor. It’s hard to believe anyone in a red shirt cemented their place in Sunday’s squad after that disastrous result.
In defense, United will likely be without Phil Jones, who picked up a hamstring injury against Spurs. That leaves Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelöf, and Chris Smalling as the only healthy center backs. Lindelöf was a mess on Monday night, so a Bailly-Smalling partnership looks to be the safe bet.
Shockingly, Luke Shaw just might be the club’s most dependable defender right now. Mourinho praised the young left back for his strong start to the season and now he has a chance to make the position his own.
For those picked in midfield and attack, the emphasis must be on putting the ball in the back of the net. Against Spurs, United showed an utter inability to turn their many chances and possession into goals. They would do well to take a lesson from the ruthlessness of Harry Kane and Lucas Moura. In short, Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, and Alexis Sánchez need to step up.
A weary Burnley could be just what the doctor ordered. After finishing an impressive seventh last season, the Clarets struggled to cope with life in the Europa League, coming up just short of the competition’s group stage.
Burnley managed to advance past Aberdeen and Istanbul Basaksehir, but lost out to Olympiakos 4-2 on aggregate. Sean Dyche saw the writing on the wall after a heavy first-leg defeat and rested several of his top players on Thursday night. A 1-1 draw wasn't enough and Burnley’s European dream came to an early end.
Record-signing Ben Gibson missed out on the second leg due to a red card, but will be available to man the middle of Burnley’s defense this weekend. James Tarkowski, Matej Vydra, and Chris Wood should also be well-rested.
Playing twice a week is a tough ask for a club of Burnley’s size and it looks to be taking its toll. The Clarets have just one point in the Premier League so far and will face Manchester United on Sunday with only three days of rest. Incredibly, Burnley have already played nine competitive matches this season compared to three for United.
No matter the slow start, Dyche has worked miracles during his time at Turf Moor. Few teams are as difficult to break down as his Burnley outfit, giving them a fighting chance to nick points off any Premier League opponent.
They did just that at Old Trafford last season, jumping out to a 2-0 lead before hanging on for a draw. United got their revenge a month later, winning 1-0 behind a second-half Anthony Martial goal. But that December draw should be fair warning to Mourinho and company that Burnley cannot be underestimated.
Amidst all the drama surrounding the club at the moment, reports continue to claim that a plane will fly over Turf Moor on Sunday bearing a banner calling for Ed Woodward’s dismissal. Whether this is the right avenue to register disapproval or not, there’s no way to spin United’s transfer business as anything but disastrous.
And, if the last two matches are anything to go by, the sins of the summer are leaking over to the Premier League season.
Manchester United must take advantage of Burnley’s packed fixture list and punish the Clarets on Sunday. The club needs some positivity and that will only come with three points this weekend. Anything less and this will be a very, very, very long international break.