Manchester United did not anticipate going 2-0 down in the second half at home against Burnley. The deficit imposed the most difficult challenge for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United since the Norwegian took over in December. Chances wasted in the first half came back to haunt them as Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood gave their side the lead at Old Trafford. Panic mode set in for United, but rather than letting further chances pass by they made the most of their opportunities in the closing minutes. Paul Pogba converted a penalty in the 87th minute followed by Victor Lindelöf’s scrappy equalizer in stoppage time.
Achieving only a point on a day when Arsenal beat Cardiff City means United fell 2 points behind the Gunners after rapidly catching up to them just weeks earlier, but the response of both the team and Solskjaer to going 2-0 down late in the game demonstrates the renewed will of the United squad. The recovery operations in game were impressive and admirable despite earning only a point. Solskjaer’s substitutes didn’t make a major impact, but the shape of the team changed for the better.
It’s fair to say the starting 11 turned a few heads when released an hour before kick off. Andreas Pereira made his first start since the FA Cup 3rd Round fixture against Reading and Juan Mata started on the right wing with Anthony Martial out injured and Jesse Lingard on the bench. Pereira did little to justify his place in the team. He disappeared for nearly all of his 62 minutes on the pitch. He rarely look as though he knew his role in the side, and was directly responsible for Burnley’s first goal. Solskjaer recognized this and withdrew the Brazilian and brought on Lingard 10 minutes after conceding the first goal.
Lingard’s presence added more natural movement in the attacking third as Juan Mata settled into a midfield role behind the forwards. When Mata was on the wing his patience on the ball and involvement in the passing game had slowed United down a bit and left Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford a bit isolated at times. This was a recurring problem when José Mourinho played Mata in the same position, and Solskjaer’s recognition of the problem and solution for it was a welcome sight for the fans. Even with a second goal conceded United looked the more likely team to score.
Bringing on Alexis Sánchez for Lukaku may not have been ideal for the “cross it every time” strategy that was used late in the game, but his presence did help spread out the Burnley defense that had been alert for almost every attempt for the first 85 minutes of the match.
The defensive problems that have plagued United in league play all season once again came under the microscope on Burnley’s two goals, but United’s fighting spirit put them in position to avoid a loss for a 9th straight match. In this regard Solskjaer is also earning his stripes. He’s already proven to be more than just a feel good choice for caretaker manager with his work inspiring confidence and form for United’s attacking players, he’s solidified his candidacy for the full time manager position by adapting to opponents mid-game and making key substitutions to continue to keep pressure on the opposition.