Manchester United comfortably defeated Burnley 2-0 at Turf Moor to close the gap on top-four rivals Manchester City to just one point with the derby up next for Jose Mourinho’s men.
First-half goals from Anthony Martial and the returning Wayne Rooney bagged United the three points and intensified Thursday’s now crucial meeting of the local adversaries.
Jose Mourinho made eight changes to his United line-up that defeated Anderlecht in extra-time in midweek with captain Rooney starting a Premier League game for the first time since early March in place of the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Martial leading the line ahead of the rested Marcus Rashford.
United came into this game looking to gain revenge for the frustrating goalless draw at Old Trafford back in October which led Sean Dyche to declare United were “the best side we’ve played against this season.”
Burnley on the other hand boast the highest points tally by a promoted team since Charlton Athletic in 2000/01 and have the sixth best home record in the division, so the Reds knew it would be no mean feat to break down a stubborn Clarets defence.
United have the division’s best points per game average in away matches though and it took just eight minutes for the first glimpse at goal as Martial slid the ball back to Ander Herrera in the box and he found Rooney, but the United captain’s effort was blocked and saved by ex-Reds goalkeeper Tom Heaton.
A few minutes later, Marouane Fellaini climbed highest to head at Heaton following a corner, whilst at the other end Jeff Hendrick did well to evade United right-back Ashley Young, but his dangerous cross was blocked and Ben Mee headed the resulting corner onto the roof of the net.
United broke the deadlock on 21 minutes in clinical fashion and it was a move started and finished by Martial. The Frenchman won the ball in the Burnley half and in a matter of seconds it was in the Burnley net as a blistering counter-attack had the visitors’ no.11 driving forward and laying the ball off to Herrera, who then squared it back for the 21-year-old to slot past Heaton.
The game quietened down following the opener with the hosts having only the odd attacking surge led by the dangerous Andre Gray. United on the other hand were controlling the game and doubled the lead six minutes before the break.
Martial latched onto Paul Pogba’s pass down the left. His shot was blocked by Heaton, but the ball rebounded to Rooney who slotted it through Michael Keane’s legs and clearly over the goal-line without the need for technology to aid referee Anthony Taylor.
At the other end Gray had a deflected shot blocked in the box as the hosts looked to hit back instantly, but United defended well and deservedly led at the break.
Possession: Burnley 46% United 54%
Shots at goal: Burnley 4 United 8
Shots on target: Burnley 0 United 5
Corners: Burnley 2 United 2
The second half started as the first one had ended, with United in control. The Reds, playing in white today, were well on top and Pogba tried his luck from 30 yards, which Heaton did well to save down low.
Martial was looking dangerous and was linking up well with Rooney. The latter was unlucky not to have a couple of clear-cut chances to double his tally for the afternoon.
First the ball ran away from him following a Martial pass when he would have been one-on-one with Heaton, before the second opening had the United skipper slipping at the vital moment when being played in by Jesse Lingard.
The hosts began to push for a route back into the game, but Daley Blind and Eric Bailly were looking solid for United at the back, resulting in Burnley failing to muster a shot on target all game.
Reds substitute Marcus Rashford darted through the Clarets defence after replacing Lingard and when Heaton hesitated, the young prodigy had the chance to score for the third consecutive Premier League game, but he fired wide from a narrow angle when the chip may have been the better option.
Pogba tried his luck from 25 yards late on with a shot which crept inches wide, but it didn’t matter as the Reds stretched the unbeaten run to 23 league games. Next up – a certain Manchester derby.
Possession: Burnley 46% United 54%
Shots at goal: Burnley 7 United 12
Shots on target: Burnley 0 United 6
Corners: Burnley 3 United 3
Burnley: Heaton, Lowton, Keane, Mee (Tarkowski 45), Ward, Boyd (Gudmundsson 62), Barton, Hendrick, Brady, Gray, Barnes (Agyei 75). Subs not used: Pope, Flanagan, Westwood, Defour.
Booked: Lowton, Hendrick.
United: De Gea, Darmian, Bailly, Blind, Young, Herrera, Fellaini, Pogba (Carrick 88), Lingard (Rashford 69), Rooney, Martial (Mkhitaryan 78). Subs not used: Romero, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Shaw.