Verdict: Burnley make progress Vincent Kompany wanted to see against Man Utd, yet it still wasn’t enough
and live on Freeview channel 276
There’s no doubt the fixture list has been cruel on the newly-promoted Clarets, throwing up opening home games against reigning champions and all-conquering Manchester City up first, followed by Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester United – three sides all chasing European qualification this season.
Prior to the visit of Erik ten Hag’s men, the Clarets had shipped an alarming 11 goals during the previous three home games, following it up with a more promising 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest.
Back on home turf against another supposed top team, Kompany was intrigued to see what “steps forward” his side had made.
“We’ve had three games against three of the top eight sides I would say and the gap has always been there,” he said heading into Saturday night’s televised encounter.
“We’ve played two games against Forest [one in the cup and one in the league] where we felt like we were on an even playing field, so for us it’s about closing that gap to the teams at the top.
“I’m really looking forward to this game in terms of seeing if we’ve made those steps forward.”
Did we see Burnley close the gap? Absolutely? Have they made those steps forward? You’d have to say yes. And yet they still found themselves on the losing side, proving just how brutal this division is.
Putting it all together
Against City, Villa and Spurs, Burnley had their moments, especially in attack. But in defence they were vulnerable and were too easy to play through.
But on this occasion Kompany’s side managed to put all facets of their game together and, despite a couple of nervy and tense moments at the back, limited United to very, very little in the way of clear-cut chances.
In fact, United’s Expected Goals (xG) was a mere 0.84, a vast improvement from the 2.4, 2.84 and 2.4 we witnessed for the opposition in the previous three home games.
The stats don’t lie, the progress Kompany was after had been made. Yet the only stat that matters is the end result and one moment of brilliance from Bruno Fernandes, a sucker-punch right on the stroke of half-time, proved to be the defining moment.
We can analyse the goal and what Burnley could perhaps have done differently, but in truth they did very little wrong.
Maybe you could argue Jonny Evans was given too much time on the ball to pick out Fernandes with a clever chipped pass, but he was near the halfway line and very little appeared to be on. That would be a case of just being critical for criticism's sake.
Fernandes got the wrong side of Jordan Beyer, and we’re talking a matter of inches here, which is testament to how good Evans’ ball was, but the Portuguese midfielder still had it all to do, before lashing home with a Robin van Persie-esque first-time volley across James Trafford and into the far corner of the Burnley net.
It’s fine margins, but as we’re now realising, it’s those fine margins that can be the difference between no points, one point or maybe even three.
A promising display
It ended a half Burnley had virtually dominated, playing some lovely, slick football and backing it up with chance creation two – the two clearest ones falling for Zeki Amdouni.
The Swiss forward, stepping into the number nine role in the absence of the suspended Lyle Foster, brought a good save out of Andre Onana with a downward header before being denied by the inside of the post after doing everything right with a low shot inside the box later in the half.
On the ball Burnley were fantastic, things were beginning to click helped by the likes of Aaron Ramsey, who impressed on his first league start. Amdouni was linking play up at the top while Luca Koleosho was a constant threat, albeit that threat diminished a little after he swapped flanks with Mike Tresor following Johann Gudmundsson’s early withdrawal.
Burnley’s second-half display wasn’t quite at the same level, but once United had got their noses in front they were happy to slow things down and frustrate. The tempo, up until the last 10 minutes or so, just wasn’t there in the same way.
They were still able to produce a late flurry, helped by some late changes which brought some much-needed freshness after players began to tire.
Jacob Bruun Larsen was denied by Onana, before Jay Rodriguez was also foiled on the follow-up. Sander Berge headed over while Manuel Benson was unable to produce one of his trademark finishes, despite his best efforts.
Looking to the future
And so, ultimately, it proved to be another night of disappointment. And yet you wouldn’t have sensed the frustration inside the stadium, with the supporters sticking with their team all the way through and applauding them off the pitch at the final whistle.
Burnley are bottom of the league having picked up just one point from their opening five games, and yet it somehow doesn’t feel like it.
Kompany’s men are doing a lot of things right at this moment in time, they’re just yet to receive the fruits of their labour.
It feels very much like it’s just a matter of time, but the upcoming fixtures don’t get a great deal easier, with games against Newcastle United and Chelsea to follow after the midweek Carabao Cup tie against Salford City, where Kompany is expected to make wholesale changes once again.
It’s a long, old season but Burnley must remain patient. Their time will come.