Put away those torches and pitchforks for now because it was Manchester United‘s performance backed by a 2-0 win at Turf Moor that will have seen Jose Mourinho’s stock enjoy a much needed spike.
In a must-win game for the visitors for a variety of reasons, Romelu Lukaku’s brace sealed the points for a 10-man United after substitute Marcus Rashford was sent off.
Joe Hart denied Paul Pogba from the spot earlier but Mourinho’s side were able to pull together and see out a precious victory.
Any general in crisis mode turns to his most trusted lieutenant and whether United fans like it or not, Marouane Fellaini is just that for Mourinho.
The under-fire Portuguese coach started Fellaini ahead of summer signing Fred in midfield, alongside Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. His thinking behind the move quickly became evident.
Burnley’s best route to goal is their aerial assault, be that from set-pieces or dangerous deliveries into the box from wide areas, with Chris Wood providing a big target up front.
Fellaini naturally helps guard against set-pieces with his imposing physical presence but it’s his positioning from open play that is intriguing. As soon as the hosts got the ball wide, the Belgian would immediately sprint into his own box, placing himself among the centre-backs, ready to deal with the ball in. It’s no surprise that Fellaini won more headers than anyone else at Turf Moor (7).
Meanwhile, he was also excellent at covering the space in behind Antonio Valencia when the right-back joined the attack with Matic doing a similar job to cover for Luke Shaw on the opposite side.
Of course, his role was altered once United were reduced to 10 men but he was also economic with the ball at his feet, giving nothing away. He attempted 54 passes with a success rate of 92.6 per cent, only Chris Smalling (41 passes) was more accurate among the United players (95.1 per cent).
Fellaini’s performance laid the foundation for a strong United response after a false start to the season and Mourinho was well aware of the magnitude of his contribution, singling out the midfielder for praise in his post-match interview.
“I would say Fellaini was fundamental to the team. Together with Smalling and Lindelof they made a fantastic group of players,” he said, as heard on beIN SPORTS.
CONTENTIOUS DECISIONS HELP UNITED
Wait, what? Yes, Jonathan Moss didn’t have his finest game as a Premier League official but his decisions against United will only feed the siege mentality Mourinho is famous for creating in his efforts to get the players to pull together as one.
In the heat of battle, the United boss wouldn’t have appreciated some of the calls that went against his side and could so easily have taken the game away from them but as he walked down the tunnel at the final whistle, he might’ve allowed himself a brief smirk. The glaring injustice plays perfectly into his hands.
Mourinho can’t defend Rashford for getting himself sent off, calling him “a naive boy” in his post-match comments. However, Lukaku had a legitimate penalty appeal later on and Ben Mee escaped what should’ve been a clear red card for dragging the ball back with his hand when the striker was going clean through on goal, with only a throw-in awarded in the end.
If United are to challenge this season, they need their best players performing and pulling in one direction. Mourinho is capable of creating a situation like that and this victory, with a man disadvantage and a couple of controversial refereeing decisions will only amplify his battle cry.
BURNLEY IN TROUBLE
While Mourinho approached this game under enormous pressure, the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ isn’t enjoying his best moment as Burnley boss either. Some would say the club over-achieved by securing Europa League football last season and that has proved to be a crutch for them at the start of the current campaign.
Burnley have now taken just one point in their opening four games and were knocked out of the continental competition in midweek. Perhaps their elimination from Europe will spark a domestic revival but they can’t afford to lose too much ground in the mean time.
In light of that, Sean Dyche will be welcoming the international break with open arms as most of his side get a chance to have a breather, regroup and start fresh.
Manager Jose Mourinho tweaked his formation again and made more changes to his starting XI – he has yet to name an unchanged XI this season – and it worked as Romelu Lukaku scored twice in a largely comfortable win.
Paul Pogba started in midfield – though he missed a penalty – and United generally looked much better than they had in their run of two straight losses.
Here’s a closer look at how the Red Devils’ manager steadied the ship.
Goals – 2
Shots – 21
Possession – 54%
Tackles – 6
Dribbles – 6
Mourinho reverted to a 4-3-3 after last week’s experimental 3-3-3-1 line-up, with the revolving door in defence seeing Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof getting the nod as the starting centre-backs, the third different pairing Mourinho has used in three games. There were also starts for Marouane Fellaini and Alexis Sanchez.
He will have been pleased with the way his team responded to last week’s loss, with the defence looking much more solid and United far more clinical in attack, with Lukaku scoring two goals to put doubts about his form to bed – though he should have had a hat-trick, and Pogba missed a penalty.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Two holding midfielders
These days Fellaini rarely starts, and when he does play it’s because United are going to Plan B in attack. But here, he was given a specific role, sitting alongside Nemanja Matic right in front of the back four. Indeed, there were times when Burnley had the ball where the big Belgian was deep enough to double up as a centre-back.
The presence of the midfield duo brought stability to United’s back-line, who looked much less troubled than in previous games this season. It also gave Pogba the license to roam, which made United a much more dangerous proposition.
The Frenchman had his best performance of the season, and the two holding midfielders were vital to that.
This could have been a much more straightforward win had Pogba not missed a penalty, not to mention Lukaku’s botched 1-on-1. And Marcus Rashford’s red card after coming on as a substitute certainly complicated matters.
Overall, however, Mourinho will have enjoyed his side’s performance. He got his tactics right and his team dominated the game, scored two good goals, and were rarely threatened even when Burnley were chasing the game.
Meanwhile, anyone looking for any fault lines in the squad would have been disappointed. Mourinho barely moved from his seat when United scored their first, but celebrated the second much more animatedly. There was a pat on the back for Pogba when the midfielder was substituted late on, as well.
RATING – 8/10
Romelu Lukaku put the Red Devils 2-0 up in a commanding performance at Turf Moor. But the game turned into a lively affair after Paul Pogba missed a second half penalty and Marcus Rashford was then sent off for putting his head into Phil Bardsley.
Burnley pressed but also left gaps at the back and United could have won more comfortably.
Here, we rate both sets of players.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-3-3)
David De Gea – 6: Very little to do but was sharp and alert. Saved smartly late on, twice from Vokes.
Antonio Valencia – 6: Always an outlet down the right. Two key passes and the same figures for tackles, interceptions and clearances.
Victor Lindelof – 7: Enjoyed his physical battle with Chris Wood. Six clearances in a very sound display for the Swede.
Chris Smalling – 7: A stout performance at a difficult venue for the much maligned defender. Three interceptions led United.
Luke Shaw – 8: Added to his burgeoning season with another fine game. A menace down the left flank and looking increasingly composed going backwards.
Marouane Fellaini – 7: Brought in to add ballast to a rickety-looking United at home to Spurs. Isn’t the most stylish but was dependable as usual, giving United a solid platform.
Paul Pogba – 6: Sprayed passes at will as Burnley offered him the freedom to operate. Will hopefully stop that dreadful penalty run-up after his poor miss.
Nemanja Matic – 6: He and Fellaini presented a united front in the Red Devils’ engine room. Neat and tidy, allowing Pogba to roam forward.
Jesse Lingard – 7: Lively and bright start showed just why he’s such a vital player for United. Could have scored two early on. A constant danger for the hosts.
Romelu Lukaku – 9: Does what he does best, put the ball in the net. Expert header is what we expect from the big Belgian. Should have had a hat-trick.
Alexis Sanchez – 8: Grew into the game. Fine outing capped with a sensational cross which was plum for Lukaku to bury. Also had a hand in the second.
Marcus Rashford – 4: Came on for the half-fit Sanchez and lasted just 10 minutes before idiotically being red-carded for reacting to Bardsley’s sly, off the ball swipe. Won United’s penalty.
Ander Herrera – 6: Put on to stifle Burnley as opportunity knocked following Rashford’s red.
Eric Bailly N/A: Late replacement for Pogba, just to get an extra body at the back.
Joe Hart – 8: The former Man City keeper would have been pumped up for this, excellent save denied Lukaku a second goal. After Burnley fell 2-0 behind he was outstanding, brilliantly saving Pogba’s penalty.
Phil Bardsley – 6: Extremely lucky not to see red for his kick out at Rashford. Led Burnley with three tackles.
Ben Mee – 3: Should a penalty have been given when Lukaku rounded Hart? How did John Moss miss his handball after being outmuscled by the United striker? An all-round uncomfortable day for the City academy graduate.
James Tarkowski – 5: Was a busy boy with five clearances, two blocked shots and two tackles, but struggled to contain United’s forward runners.
Charlie Taylor – 7: In an underperforming home defence, he was the one bright spark. Four clearances and blocked two shots.
Aaron Lennon – 5: Clumsily fouled Rashford for the penalty, but Hart rescued him. Drew three fouls from opposition players.
Ashley Westwood – 6: Didn’t do much wrong but not much right either. With the most Burnley touches (77), he would have been expected to make a more telling impact.
Jack Cork – 7: One of the hosts’ brightest performers – there weren’t too many. Jointly led side with two key passes.
Dwight McNeil – 6: Teenage winger didn’t let his side down and made his presence felt with three aerials won. Also recorded two tackles, interceptions and clearances too.
Jeff Hendrick – 5: Led Burnley in pass accuracy (92.9 per cent) bud offered little incision, replaced before the hour.
Chris Wood – 4: Gave Smalling and Lindelof plenty to think about, but lacked any punch in terms of goalscoring threat.
Sam Vokes – 6: Used his frame to good effect as he won five aerials after coming on (joint team high) and tested De Gea twice.
Ashley Barnes N/A: Got a shot off and a cross away as he looked to keep himself busy when introduced late.
Matej Vydra N/A: Belatedly thrown on to make a nuisance of himself, saw little action.