Man U has struggled mightily. The guys are making progress. The tie against Burnley could hurt Man U big time. We will see what happens.
The Guardians Paul Wilson: “As goalless draws go this was certainly eventful, with Manchester United going down to 10 men, José Mourinho being banished from the sidelines, Tom Heaton putting in another inspired goalkeeping performance and Burnley picking up their first away point of the season. Yet it was hardly the result the home side were looking for; it takes United back to square one after their midweek pick-me-up against Manchester City. Mourinho said beforehand he was looking forward to a long-awaited Sunday off, but relaxation is proving elusive for the manager holed up at Manchester’s Lowry hotel. He must answer an FA charge of making comments about the referee Anthony Taylor by Monday, and now faces probable suspension for confronting Mark Clattenburg in the tunnel at half-time.
Returning to the football, as good as Heaton was, United could only be embarrassed by a total of 37 attempts, 11 of them on target, and no goals. That suggests poor finishing, and the assistant coach Rui Faria, sent to speak in place of Mourinho, did not disagree. “We are not happy,” he said. “We are creating a lot, we just have to keep believing the goals will come.”
Mourinho is now saying he needs time to turn United into winners because they have become unfamiliar with the habit, apparently forgetting that Chelsea had not done anything in the league for donkey’s years when he won the title in his first season at Stamford Bridge. United won the FA Cup only last season and the title three years before that, but time is presently standing still at Old Trafford. Watching United these days makes for longer afternoons than it used to.
The script was obvious here right from the start. Burnley would defend doggedly until such time as United scored and they were obliged to chase the game. United would see a lot of the ball and spend most of their time setting up attacks, but confronted with a side not sending too many players forward in search of a goal they would struggle to inject enough pace into the game to play at their preferred tempo. What the home supporters must have been praying for was an early goal, but due to Heaton’s goalkeeping heroics it never came.
The Burnley goalkeeper is the busiest in the Premier League, and with practice comes a predictable level of performance. Just as he had against Everton last week, Heaton prevented his opponents taking advantage of a slew of early chances. Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw a shot saved in the opening couple of minutes, quickly followed by Juan Mata as United moved the ball swiftly around the edge of Burnley’s box. A neat through ball from Mata put Ibrahimovic clean through but he was unable to lift the ball over the goalkeeper, then Heaton had to dive to his right to beat away a shot from Mata.
It was not quite all United. Sam Vokes put a shot wide then just failed to get the near-post touch he was looking for after Daley Blind temporarily lost Andre Gray, though the home side certainly finished the first half on top. Ben Mee turned up to block from Ibrahimovic, then Heaton produced a flying save to tip over Jesse Lingard’s header from Ander Herrera’s cross. Paul Pogba closed the half with a shot that also required helping over the bar, though it was significant that United’s goal attempts were coming from further and further out. A theatrical fall in the area by Matteo Darmian, in at right back because Antonio Valencia needed an operation on a broken arm, did not succeed in fooling Clattenburg, though Mourinho was sent to the stands for complaining too vehemently to the official at the break.
Burnley might have taken the lead at the start of the second half. Gray is quick and found himself with the whole of the United half to run into but Luke Shaw is no slouch either and caught up with the striker. After that it was back to business as usual, with Heaton stopping shots from Mata and then Lingard, though in the buildup to the latter Mata should have done better with Ibrahimovic’s cutback from the goalline. When Herrera’s cross reached Ibrahimovic at a slightly awkward height a goal seemed certain as the Swede shaped himself for a mid-air volley at the far post. He made good contact and was on target, only to find Heaton spreading himself Peter Schmeichel-style to keep the ball out with his arm. Ibrahimovic headed against the bar and the unlucky Mata struck an upright with a shot on the turn as United’s siege of the Burnley goal began to take on a comic dimension, before the game became even more intriguingly poised with Herrera’s dismissal. The midfielder had been booked in the first half for a foul on Dean Marney, and when he upended the same player again his only argument was that he slipped rather than launched himself.
Desperate situations call for desperate measures, and Mourinho responded by sending on Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini. He was probably desperate enough by that stage to throw in Henrikh Mkhitaryan too but he had once again neglected to name the Armenian among his substitutes. United had to make do with Memphis Depay instead. Like Rooney and Fellaini, he made little difference. United had a last-minute chance to win the game when Pogba found Ibrahimovic, who missed from close range, then one more in stoppage time when Blind rolled a free kick into Rooney’s path. Here was his moment, but from the edge of the area the ball finished up in the Stretford End.
There was the odd boo as the ground emptied, though the Burnley manager at least was impressed. “Personally, I thought United were first class, they are still a top side,” Sean Dyche said, before revealing he had discovered Mourinho had been dismissed only at the final whistle. “You get a little bit of freedom at places like this, no one expects Burnley to get anything. We know we still have to play better away from home, but we got a point.”