MANCHESTER UNITED vs BURNLEY
This game was United’s fifth game in thirteen days. The previous four had yielded a mix bag of results, two wins, a defeat and a draw. Unfortunately for United’s league position the wins came in the two cup games in that sequence which meant that this home league game felt like a must win.
In: Darmian and Lingard.
Out: Valencia and Carrick.
- A disappointing result, but an encouraging performance. We are right to be concerned by the lack of goals United have scored in recent league games, which has resulted in a mixed bag of results and has seen United slip down the table, but not necessarily in recent performances, (Chelsea apart).
- United dominated possession and played good simple high tempo football which created 27 shots on goal. It is a freak that they did not win this game.
- Ibrahimovic and Pogba are players who some fans and sections of the media are holding responsible for many of United’s failings at the moment. This isn’t just misguided, it is plain wrong. Ibrahimovic is misfiring in front of goal but he had 11 shots here and to have that many you have to be moving well and combining well with your team-mates.
- Pogba drove this performance from a fairly deep starting position. His developing understanding with Mata, Herrera and Ibrahimovic is there for all to see; if their looking.
- Herrera needs to curb his instincts at times. He is a busy player whose principle strength is that he forces issues and gives the team a dynamic momentum in the middle of the pitch. It is a fine balance however and his enthusiasm can lead to situations where he oversteps the mark. That happened here, even if he was unlucky to receive at least one of his yellow cards.
As United made two changes from the side that faced City; perhaps surprisingly resting Carrick after the excellence of his midweek display. The shape here was a 4-2-1-3, so a sort of inverted midfield triangle. Pogba and Herrera however were very fluid in their positioning and so at any one time one or other of this pair seemed to be further forward. Mata featured in the number 10 role. Burnley set up in a 4-4-2, although this was usually 4-5-1 as they set up in a low block. Their two banks of four stayed narrow leaving space in the full back positions.
United’s first half shape and Mata who had an excellent game
United’s approach was very positive right from the start; they had a shot in the first minute via Ibrahimovic after a quick exchange of passing after a turnover of possession. And so it continued up to the thirty minute mark with wave after wave of attacks yielding shot after shot. The halftime score was 0-0 so the obvious question to ask ourselves is what United did wrong to fail to make that breakthrough. It’s simple really, poor finishing.
United’s basic strategy was to pass the ball quickly with players moving adventurously to provide passing options. This produced some excellent attacking entertaining football which was a delight to behold. What United did really well was to play simple early passes; one or two touch moves with players moving off the ball into spaces as they appeared. This football felt automatic or instinctive and can only be considered to be possible because the players positioned through the spine of the team are now developing an instinctive understanding. This means that players can be spontaneous and don’t have to think about the pass, they just play it.
As alluded to either Herrera or Pogba would work up and down the pitch, Ibrahimovic tended to drop deep and Mata was everywhere. Lingard tended to come narrow leaving space outside and behind him on the right. What United did really well was to get between the two defensive lines and this is what generated the number of shots on goal. All the five players identified did this really well at times. Darmian who had replaced the injured Valencia for this game pushed forward but he wasn’t as dynamic or spontaneous as he might have been. On the left Rashford tended to stay wider and he made a contribution, regularly combining with Pogba and Shaw but he didn’t often get at the fullback.
It was all United in the first thirty minutes but then inevitably came a lull with Burnley having a couple of breakaway. One of these generated a foul by Herrera for which he was booked. Immediately prior to this incident a poor challenge of Shaw went uncensored by the referee. As the play ran on United were slightly exposed to the break and Herrera lunged in on Marney. He tried to pull out at the last minute but couldn’t halt his slide. The resulting booking would prove costly later.
In the last few minutes of the half usual business was resumed after the lull and United had a couple of other good chances to score. They didn’t and then on half time they had a penalty claim turned down when Darmian charged into the box. Several journalists have made the point that the “tackle” was outside the box and that there was minimal contact. To correct them there was contact and the defender, (watch his feet) is always in the box. He caught Darmian as he passed him. This was a clear penalty. Nevertheless given the number of chances created and not taken United could reasonably blame themselves for the half time score of 0-0.
There were no half time substitutions but Jose Mourinho was “sent-off” presumably for things said to the referee in the tunnel. He spent the second half watching from the stands.
On the pitch nothing really changed at the start of the second half, United continued to attack and continued to generate shooting chances. They also continued to fail in their attempts to make a breakthrough. Then there was a change. Herrera was sent off in the 70th minute receiving a second booking for a rash challenge as Burnley attempted to break. By default this changed the United formation with Pogba being forced to stay deeper. The shape now became 4-1-3-1 with Pogba as the holding player. Almost immediately Mourinho made a double substitution replacing Lingard with Fellaini and Mata with Rooney in the 72nd minute.
United immediately after Herrera’s dismissal and Mourinho, forced to watch the second half from the stands
Rooney almost as high as Ibrahimovic in attack and Lingard and Rashford fairly narrow. Mourinho had taken the view that United should not surrender the initiative because of the dismissal in view of how much on top they had been throughout the game. Playing two forwards contributed to United now being more direct and this did put the Burnley central defence under increased pressure. They coped though. The downside of this shape of course was that United were now fairly narrow and potentially vulnerable on the counter in wide areas. Burnley didn’t really attempt to exploit this seemingly being content to play for the point and United’s adjustments and numbers through the spine of the side meant that they remained on top and continued to create more goal scoring chances.
On 82 minute United made their last substitution replacing Rashford with Memphis. This could be seen in many respects as a change for changes sake in an attempt to shake things up with a fresh pair of legs making a breakthrough. United did have a couple of very good late chances with Rooney firing over and Ibrahimovic missing a good chance from close range at the far post, but the breakthrough never came.
United fans are right to concern themselves with the result here given the number of goal scoring chances they created, not would be wrong to worry about much else. Not only did they dominated this game but played some excellent dynamic attacking football. Develop a more clinical cutting edge and it will be happy days. Contrast this performance with any number of low scoring home draws last year. Then as team sat back in a low block, United passed and passed and passed, endlessly and aimlessly creating maybe one of two chances per game. This was a very different story altogether with United regularly and skilfully breaking down a low block, getting between the lines to open up passing angles. Allied to good off the ball movement and a developing team understanding United generated chance after chance after chance.
It was a freak occurrence that they failed to take any of these chances. That isn’t to say that United shouldn’t work on their finishing or that Burnley’s Tom Heaton did not play supremely well. But if United continue to play in this manner the goals will come.