Manchester United 3, Burnley 1: Chris Boden's thoughts on another dispiriting night at Old Trafford

It was a night when Aaron Lennon rolled back the years.
Aaron Lennon pulls a goal backAaron Lennon pulls a goal back
Aaron Lennon pulls a goal back

Handed his first Premier League start of the season, and first since January 2020, the former England winger netted his goal since September 2018.

In doing so, he joined Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo as the only players to have netted in the Premier League this term, having also done so back in 2005/06.

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It was Lennon’s first Premier League goal against United in his 23rd appearance against the Red Devils, coming 18 years and 73 days since his first game against them in October 2003 for Leeds United, aged only 16.

And it was a deserved goal, twisting and turning Harry Maguire before firing across David De Gea inside the far post, capping a performance full of hunger, drive and positivity.

However, it was also too little, too late for Burnley, making the score 3-1 to United just before half-time, with the points all but wrapped up for the hosts.

It seems to sum up Burnley’s season that when they find a positive going forward, such as Maxwel Cornet’s goal return, that there is a negative at the other end.

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The Clarets gave as good as they got at Old Trafford, created as many big chances, and had as many shots on target as they had in their last three games put together.

But the balance they have been searching for all season was again elusive.

United’s three goals were all avoidable, with another three against making for an insurmountable task.

Having started very brightly, with Lennon buzzing around to great effect in the ‘Cornet role’ as a number 10 off Chris Wood, the Clarets squandered a huge opportunity, with Wood heading high and wide from a pinpoint Matt Lowton centre.

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Wood then curled an effort behind the far post after being fed by Lennon, before the off-side flag was raised.

And from there, United should have gone ahead, with the usually lethal Cristiano Ronaldo somehow missing the target as Luke Shaw’s simple ball left Burnley wide open.

Moments later, Ronaldo’s mis-control presented the chance for Scott McTominay to use Ashley Westwood to shape the ball behind Wayne Hennessey’s left hand.

Hennessey was making his first Premier League start for Burnley, coming in for Nick Pope, who, with Jay Rodriguez, Josh Brownhill and Kevin Long, was absent through coronavirus protocols, joining the injured Ashley Barnes, Cornet and Connor Roberts, recovering from a severe illness.

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The Clarets, unlike many of their Premier League rivals, showed great transparency, naming every missing player, and why they were out.

Dyche was loathe to use their absence as an excuse, and his players competed well, but again, the key moments went against them, as Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s half volley hit Aaron Wan-Bissaka from another Lowton cross, before Shaw was allowed to gallop down the left and fire into the side-netting.

Shaw then nicked the ball from Dwight McNeil and Lowton and fed Jadon Sancho, who drove at James Tarkowski, his effort going in off the far post courtesy of an unfortunate touch off captain Ben Mee.

Again Burnley posed a threat, and Wood got goalside of the leaden-footed Maguire, who had a good handful of the Kiwi’s shirt, with the striker electing to shoot with his left foot, rather than slip in Lennon.

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It was effectively game over when McTominay’s shot was superbly touched onto the post by Hennessey, and Ronaldo gobbled up the rebound.

However, Burnley were given hope when Lennon intercepted the ball and ran at Maguire, before angling a shot past De Gea’s right hand.

After the break, Hennessey saved from Mason Greenwood and McTominay, who again looked to pass the ball into the corner, while Mee and Tarkowski had headed opportunities, and substitutes Matej Vydra and Erik Pieters also had decent chances.

As Dyche said, the big moments all went against Burnley, as they again came out on the wrong side of the margins.

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to suggest they simply have to find a way to pick up wins as soon as possible, or like United’s three-goal salvo, the Clarets could have a mountain to climb in terms of avoiding the drop.

When Burnley have looked defensively solid, they have conversely struggled to score goals, and when they look like creating chances, they have proved porous at the back.

So which way is the best way?

It may not be aesthetically pleasing, but more often than not, the Clarets are at their most effective when their defensive framework is intact, and they try to keep things tight, stay in games as long as possible and look to snatch a goal.

They have been braver in their pressing, which has been high up the pitch and aggressive, but have come unstuck when trying to go almost toe to toe with teams.

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It is a quandary, but with 22 games remaining, and around 27 points or so likely to be required to keep their heads above water, an answer is desperately needed.

It remains to be seen if the club can affect the situation in the January transfer window, but, as they are finding, the three or four years of neglect from the previous chairman and board, in that respect, mean it will be difficult to play catch up.

The Premier League, as Gary Neville suggested earlier this week, has moved on in that time, and while I’m not certain it’s the best the league has been, I’m inclined to agree with his fear that: “I am more worried about Burnley than I've ever been before.”