Manchester United ground out a 2-0 win away at Burnley on Saturday to move within a point of the Premier League’s top four. Anthony Martial netted the opening goal of the game just before halftime, with Marcus Rashford sealing the points in the fifth minute of stoppage time at the end of the match.
The talk before kickoff was dominated by the surprising absence of Paul Pogba, who had been expected to make his first start after a lengthy injury layoff. Instead, Pogba didn’t even make the travelling squad, with Andreas Pereira, Fred and Nemanja Matić the starting midfield three. Ole Gunnar Solskjær tried to allay fears by insisting Pogba was only being rested, but it is certainly peculiar he didn’t even make the bench. Let’s hope he hasn’t suffered a recurrence of the ankle injury that has seen him miss so much of the season so far.
United dominated possession once the game had finally got underway, but lacked the fluency required to play through a highly organised Burnley defence. With all eleven men behind the ball, the Clarets looked just about impenetrable, and the best United could muster in the first quarter-hour was a long-range Rashford free-kick, parried to safety by goalkeeper Nick Pope.
As ever, United struggled for space, and looked at their most dangerous on the rare occasions Burnley committed men forward. Such was the case midway through the opening period, when a Clarets free-kick triggered a swift United counter, which culminated in Rashford striking the base of the post from the edge of the penalty area.
Otherwise, Brandon Williams was the Reds’ best attacking outlet, twice turning dangerous crosses into the penalty area. Martial would’ve stabbed the first into the back of the net, were it not for a fine goalline clearance from erstwhile United defender Phil Bardsley. The second, begging for a tap-in, flashed across the face of goal without receiving a touch.
In the end, it was a big defensive error that allowed United to take the lead. Pereira’s tenacious harrying of left-back Charlie Taylor forced an error deep inside the Burnley half, allowing the Brazilian midfielder to win possession and slide a low cross into the middle for an onrushing Martial. With characteristic sangfroid, the Frenchman dispatched his shot around Pope and inside the post, sending United one up just a minute before halftime.
When Martial scooped a Daniel James cross into the roof of Pope’s goal five minutes after the restart, United thought they’d made the perfect start to the second half. But as quickly as Martial had wheeled away in celebration, his goal was chalked off, Mike Dean correctly adjudging him to have shoved James Tarkowski before converting.
Burnley’s attacking offerings were scanty, but as long as the Reds’ lead remained a single goal, their dodgy defensive record conjured lingering doubts. David de Gea had been entirely untested until midway through the second half, when he sprung to his right to repel a Bardsley snapshot from the edge of the area. Into the final quarter-hour, a dipping Jóhann Guðmundsson free-kick went close, but narrowly cleared the crossbar.
The hosts cranked up the pressure in the final few minutes, bombarding the United box with crosses. However, it was United who had the last laugh, sucker-punching their hosts in the fifth minute of stoppage time, when Rashford rounded the keeper to wrap up an important— and deserved — win.