TALKING POINTS: Manchester United 3, Burnley 1
Burnley slipped to a third-successive defeat as they went down 3-1 to Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.
But despite the result, there was much to admire from the Clarets, whose performance deserved more than they got from the game.
Chris Wood headed home Matt Lowton’s cross within 16 seconds, only to see his goal ruled out for offside, but Burnley went in at half-time relatively comfortable at 0-0.
That changed three minutes into the second half as Marcus Rashford nutmegged Lowton, and from his ball across the area, Bruno Fernandes dummied for Mason Greenwood to hammer home.
The lead lasted 114 seconds, with boyhood Red Devils fan James Tarkowski heading in an Ashley Westwood corner.
The game looked like playing out to a draw, with Burnley arguably looking the more likely to nick a goal on the break, but with six minutes remaining, Greenwood’s shot took two deflections and found the corner, and Edinson Cavan added a third in stoppage time.
Here are the talking points -
A BETTER BALANCE
Burnley have been more productive of late, certainly in terms of scoring goals, but in the previous two games, that has come at the cost of their renowned defensive solidity.
However, at Old Trafford, with a slight change of shape to a 4-4-1-1, the Clarets produced a far more balanced performance.
While they ultimately ended up conceding three as United enjoyed the most flattering of victories, Bailey Peacock-Farrell wasn’t peppered by United chances, as Tom Heaton was here in 2016.
He made a couple of saves you would expect him to make in the first half, and one fine stop from Fernandes in the second, but overall was well protected.
And at the other end, Chris Wood was a real thorn in the United defence from the opening seconds, when he headed in past a hesitant Dean Henderson, but had a toe nail offside.
Burnley played with real intelligence, countering well when possible, mixing their play, and using the ball with purpose, in a game which played out similar to the 3-1 defeat here in 2015, a performance of which Sean Dyche was particularly proud of at the time.
It was telling that the over riding feeling inside Old Trafford was of relief, at a first win here over Burnley in five attempts.
Wood was deployed as a lone striker, having enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Matej Vydra of late, scoring six goals between them in the last five games.
But he adapted brilliantly to the role, causing panic whenever the ball was aimed at him.
He headed past Dean Henderson from Matt Lowton’s diagonal inside 16 seconds, and guided another good headed chance just wide of the near post from another Lowton centre, before coming agonisingly close to poking in James Tarkowski’s flick on from a Dwight McNeil corner.
He had the ball in the net again in the second half, only for a foul to be called, but, he was generally a handful throughout, not just dominant in the air against Harry Maguire, but also playing on the shoulder, and, crucially for a solitary forward, made the ball stick time and again and enabled his teammates to get closer to him and up the pitch.
Wood did everything but score on a ground he clearly enjoys playing at.
He fell just short of joining a list of six players to score in three-successive Premier League games at Old Trafford, having netted on his previous two visits, and he will also remember, back in 2012 in the Olympics, scoring for New Zealand in a 1-1 draw with Egypt, for whom a certain Mohamed Salah netted.
FORMER RED IMPRESSES
While Wood had a new role, Josh Brownhill also had a different task at the club where he was a schoolboy, playing off the front in a three-man central midfield.
Used in the number 10 slot which Jeff Hendrick often filled as Burnley qualified for the Europa League in 2018, Brownhill was typically full of running, and he broke up play well, as his statistics suggest - only Jan Bednarek has more interceptions in the Premier League this season.
But it wasn’t just graft - although Brownhill’s pressing helped set the tone for Burnley, along with Wood.
The former Bristol City skipper used the ball simply and effectively, and he was unlucky when Dwight McNeil’s goalbound shot smacked him in the face in the second half.
Brownhill had previously shown, narrow on the right, and in his preferred role in the centre of midfield, than he is a more than able replacement for Hendrick, and he showed he can also play higher up the pitch in support of a striker.
STILL WORK TO BE DONE
Before the game, while the Burnley players were out doing their warm up, they may have heard a ripple of cheers from the stands, as Eddie Nketiah rescued a point for Arsenal in the seventh minute of injury time at home to Fulham.
Had the Cottagers held on, and moved within four points of the Clarets, it would have made life very interesting.
However, to keep the gap at six, with a game in hand, means Fulham need a two-win swing on Burnley, having five to play, including one game at Craven Cottage against Sean Dyche’s men.
You would back Burnley to pick up the points they need to mathematically seal a sixth-successive season in the Premier League, but ideally they can put any nerves to bed as soon as possible.
And while this was a third-successive defeat, the performance suggested the Clarets will be alright.
Dyche said: “It’s a frustrating one, but the key for me over a season is performance levels, I speak about it all the time, you take a lucky one, but generally you want your team to be performing, and with the performances of the last three games, if we tidy up the details, we‘ll make sure we get more points on the board.”
Hopefully Burnley can pick up points from their trip to Wolves and the home game with West Ham, to make the trip to West London on May 8th a far more comfortable occasion.