Manchester United did what they could to exert pressure on Manchester City, before the leaders beat Newcastle in the late match, as Anthony Martial’s goal nine minutes into the second half saw off Burnley. Winning is all José Mourinho’s men can do and while it was a patchy victory they will hardly care.
United were pushed close during the five extra added minutes at the end, when two corners and a free-kick needed defending, but they escaped and came away with three points that they just about deserved. If Alexis Sánchez does arrive from Arsenal the hope will be he can add some much needed quality in front of goal.
Sean Dyche made one change from the defeat at Crystal Palace, replacing Sam Vokes for Ashley Barnes. Having described Luke Shaw as among the finest left-backs currently playing on Friday, meanwhile, United’s manager dropped him for Ashley Young.
While Mourinho explained that Young better suited Burnley, he configured the XI in a 4-1-4-1 that had Paul Pogba pushed ahead of Nemanja Matic. It was the Frenchman who posed the Clarets a first question, linking down the left with Martial before being shepherded out.
Moments later James Tarkowski should have done better with a header he steered wide of David de Gea’s right post. Next, Young repaid his manager’s faith with a chip into Pogba’s path; the No 6 hit a first-time lob that beat Nick Pope but was too high.
Burnley had not won since moving briefly into fourth place with a 1-0 win against Stoke here on 12 December, a run of seven matches. Yet despite picking up only three points in the sequence and losing their last two league games they were confident throughout. One move had Jeff Hendrink finding Johann Berg Gudmundsson but after the Icelander cut inside the shot was weak.
Virtually all of United’s forays were occurring down the left. Juan Mata was Mourinho’s nominated right-hand attacker yet he more than once appeared on the opposite flank. One of these occasions came ahead of a cross that aimed for Romelu Lukaku and which Burnley did well to clear.
Lax defending allowed Gudmundsson a free header from a corner and when the Icelander’s pace later allowed him to skate at United a flailing Jesse Lingard tackle was required to halt his progress.
As half-time approached United’s performance had been fluid, yet scrappy near Pope’s goal. When Lingard switched the ball from right-to-left to find Martial, Mourinho’s men sensed a chance but once more a move broke down.
They neared the interval with a moment of quality, a surge past two players taking Young close to the six-yard box, but his curled right-footed attempted missed the target. Martial then did an unwanted repeat after trading passes with Pogba. A soft-shoe shuffle created space but he hit the ball the wrong side of Pope’s left post.
Mourinho will hardly have liked Lukaku’s first contribution after the break. When being crowded out near the Burnley D he appealed to Michael Dean, the referee, for a free-kick, rather than chase back and having the debate after the passage of play ended. Better, though, was the way Matic fed Mata and his quickfire ball along the turf that won a corner, though nothing came of it.
United’s opener was not long coming though, initiated by Phil Jones’s fine intervention deep inside his own half. He looked up, found Lukaku, and after the No 9 bundled the ball into space he took advantage of this luck with a fine pass to Martial. The Frenchman stepped forward and smashed in an 11th goal of the season.
It warmed the packed away end on what was becoming a cold late afternoon. The rest of Turf Moor came close to the same feeling when Gudmundsson strode up to take a 25-yard free-kick but the ball crashed to safety off De Gea’s bar.
Moments later the home support appealed for a penalty when Gudmundsson’s header rebounded off Chris Smalling – it appeared marginal and Dean was unmoved.
From here the contest became more open. Pogba had an age on the ball as Lukaku implored him to slip it in behind Burnley but the midfielder chose to shoot and the danger fizzled out.
As is their way under Dyche, Burnley continued to play. An embarrassing moment for Lingard came when he was fouled by Stephen Defour near the touchline. Play continued and Lingard rolled off the pitch, only for Mourinho to spring from his seat and roll him back on, to widespread derision.
Burnley should have equalised when Barnes found Gudmundsson down the right. The cross flashed past De Gea but there was no team-mate to finish.
Near the end Pogba ignored Martial’s run and again took aim when he should have passed but at final whistle it did not prove costly. United had not dazzled but they got the job done, as they have to do in every match to retain any hope of catching City.