Manchester United vs. Burnley: Two steps back after shock defeat

Manchester United suffered a hapless defeat at the hands of Burnley, who seem to be resurgent after their win at Leicester at the weekend.

This was probably another new low at Manchester United. Then again, we seem to have been hitting new lows literally every other week with this team. Just when Manchester United looked to have put their inability to put away bottom-half sides, they managed to go and convincingly lose to Burnley, a side which hadn’t beaten a side in the top half of the league until their win against Leicester last weekend.

Manchester United barely troubled Nick Pope. Burnley comfortably held them at arm’s length. There was no speed, no creativity to United’s play. There was very little movement from the front line, even when United were down by two goals. United never looked like they were going to score. And this time, even Lady Luck didn’t smile at them like she had when she blessed them with a blistering seven minute run at Bramall Lane, a match where they’d looked similarly down and out.

In an attacking sense, the only silver lining that emerged was the large amount of influence that Aaron Wan-Bissaka had. I think pretty much everyone was surprised to see Wan-Bissaka bombing down the right wing and putting in crosses. Even Anthony Martial seemed surprised, judging by his rather late reaction to Wan-Bissaka’s excellent first time cross 15 minutes into the game. He emerged as United’s best player, although that isn’t saying too much considering the result and the way United had played. Wan-Bissaka was helped considerably by the presence of Juan Mata on the right wing, which helps him in two ways. Firstly, Mata is a much smarter passer than someone like Dan James or even Mason Greenwood, both of whom have featured on the right wing this season for Man Utd. Mata plays passes at the right time; he draws players onto himself, creating time and space for Wan-Bissaka to either cross it first time or beat his man through his pace. This was evident throughout the first half, and especially for the chance created by Wan-Bissaka for Martial on the 15th minute. The second reason why Mata helps is simply because Mata is left footed; therefore, they don’t run into the same lanes or end up making the same runs. While Dan James was on the right flank for United this season, he and Wan-Bissaka would often end up occupying the same areas and obstruct each other.

The other man who came out of the game with his reputation enhanced was Phil Jones. He seemed everywhere in the first half; he was tasked with Jay Rodriguez, who’s pretty good in the air. Yet Jones dealt with the aerial threat confidently, and was good covering for his partner Maguire as well. He displayed all the qualities which had made him such a prospect when he was at Blackburn; he was strong in the air, fast across the ground, decisive in the tackle, and fearless (the fearless part tends to be the only one we see all the time). Furthermore, dealing with a threat like Burnley’s, especially after a having had such a demoralizing year requires mental fortitude, and he displayed that very well.

The rest of the players were pretty average. Brandon Williams, by the standards he’s set, was quiet. The midfield, once again, was functional, but not creative. Pereira, Matic and Fred made a couple of good passes, but weren’t creative on a regular basis. Matic in particular seems to have improved some aspects of his game as he has racked up minutes, with the pass to Martial into the highlight of his game (although one could argue it was the dummy from Juan Mata which really set it up). The forward line lacked movement and weren’t really playing off each other.

The forward line really showed its dependence on the Rashford-Martial axis on Wednesday. The records of the two forwards playing without each other is very poor, and its easy to see why. The entire hullaboo of Martial not being up to scratch amongst the punditry is relevant to some extent, especially considering some of his glaring misses in the past two games, but Martial isn’t really supposed to be a centre-forward of the mould of van Nistelrooy, Rooney, or some of the others that have been mentioned by pundits. He and Rashford play off one another. He’s the one who tries to bring Rashford into the game, which is why Martial is seen outside of the box a lot of the time in the game (and roundly criticized).

This isn’t to say Martial had a good game. He had a pretty bad game, and his touches and shots weren’t as assured as they have been. He also failed to bring others into play throughout the match, and for some reason, just can’t link up with James or Greenwood properly.

Manchester United failed to impose themselves in this game, and fans were right by leaving the stadium early. The club needs to get the message. The quality on show at Old Trafford hasn’t been good enough. Action needs to be taken, both short-term and long-term. Only time will tell whether Ole was good enough to be the man in the job, but meanwhile, things must be done at the top of the club to make sure the club has a long term vision, a direction, and someone who is familiar with football (as opposed to someone familiar with investment banking, the stock market, and business).

Next: United face huge blow in trying to strengthen midfield

All stats via WhoScored.

 

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