Manchester United got a much needed Premier League win against Burnley on Sunday, and can now head into the international break on a high. A first half double from Romelu Lukaku secured the two goal victory, and United held on to preserve the clean sheet despite Marcus Rashford’s sending off in the second half.
José Mourinho is still figuring out his best United team. It was Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelöf’s turn at center back, the latest duo on the carousel of mediocrity. More worryingly, Mourinho is yet to produce any recognizable style of play either. In the first two matches of the season, most of the play went through midfield, as the center of the pitch was populated with players high on technical quality. Against Burnley, with Marouane Fellaini in the starting XI in place of Fred and Andreas Pereira jettisoned from the squad, United resorted to a much more direct style of play.
In the opening quarter of the match, you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching Tony Pulis’ Stoke, and not a United team supposedly packed with attacking talent.
Despite looking decidedly unimpressive, United broke the deadlock in the 27th minute. After some patient buildup, Alexis Sánchez — who is still mostly playing like a man who has never even met his teammates, never mind practiced with them — hung up a tantalizing ball to the back post. On hand to finish with conviction was Lukaku, who rose in the air like a comically large salmon and nodded the ball home.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was getting the job done.
The same two men who created the goal almost repeated the trick ten minutes later. Alexis slipped in Lukaku, but Joe Hart threw up a strong hand to deny the Belgian his double. On the other end of the pitch, Smalling and Lindelöf were manhandling Burnley striker Chris Wood at every opportunity, much to the displeasure of Sean Dyche.
A minute before the break, Lukaku got his brace. Alexis Sánchez’s backheel played the impressive Luke Shaw into the box, whose ball then found Jesse Lingard. Lingard’s initial shot was blocked, but the ricochet found its way to Lukaku, who finished confidently. Despite all the changes from their midweek game in the Europa League, Burnley were looking leggy, and United were now starting to cut them apart at will.
The visitors started the second half as they finished the first: comfortable, if not impressive. At the hour mark, an unhappy looking Sánchez was taken off for Marcus Rashford. United's highest-paid player had a hand in both goals, but continues to cut a frustrated — and frustrating — figure.
Seven minutes after coming on, the substitute made a big impact. Rashford was pushed over in the box, winning United a penalty. Paul Pogba, now the designated spot kick taker, did his usual sputtering run up. Hart held his position though, and got down well to save the penalty.
Just four minutes after being fouled for the penalty, Rashford was involved again. Phil Bardsley had a wild kick out at his fellow United academy graduate, and Rashford retaliated by pressing his forehead into the face of the Burnley fullback. It wasn’t much of a headbutt, but it deserved a red card, and got one. United’s new number 10 took the bait, and now his team was left to play the final 20 or so minutes a man down.
The sending off and the penalty save breathed new life into proceedings. Lukaku got one on one with Joe Hart and drew another good save, and then immediately down the other end, Luke Shaw could only give away a free kick to prevent a Burnley attempt at goal. Just after that, a sensational ball from Pogba put Lukaku clean through on goal. The striker rounded Hart, but could not find the finish. At first glance, it appeared that the referee was going to award another penalty for Lukaku being bundled over the last second by the covering defender, but the decision was only a goal kick.
Ander Herrera had now come on for Lingard to shore things up, but United were continuing to press forward. In the 85th minute, Ben Mee was lucky to escape a red card for using his hands on the floor to deny Lukaku a goal-scoring opportunity. Despite the numerical disadvantage, United were actually looking the more threatening side.
The Reds (Pinks?) held firm in the final few minutes though, to secure three badly needed points.