Romelu Lukaku netted twice in the first half to seal a crucial three points for Jose Mourinho's men but that was only half the story during an intriguing encounter
A crucial game for both clubs, Burnley were hoping to get back on track after dropping into the relegation zone following an unsuccessful Europa League qualification campaign that had drained a small squad both mentally and physically. In contrast, United were looking to put successive defeats behind them with their manager grabbing the headlines after a series of outbursts.
Strong start by Shaw and Sanchez
United's desire to send a message to the rest of the league that they could still at least challenge for the top four was clear from the outset. Jesse Lingard curled inches wide just minutes after the first whistle following clever play from Alexis Sanchez.
The left winger was clearly in the mood to silence his critics after a lacklustre start to his United career, combining effectively with Luke Shaw, fresh from an international call, throughout the contest. Shaw almost doubled his United tally, forcing Joe Hart into a smart stop after cutting inside.
Burnley right-back Phil Bardsley did his best to halt the left-sided combination, attempting to turn the battle into a physical one with Sanchez. Although perhaps hindered on that side by the lack of defensive ability possessed by Aaron Lennon and teenage league debutant Dwight McNeil, taking it in turns to occupy that flank, Burnley knew they held an ace up their sleeve if they could get the latter into the game and he created the hosts' first effort, albeit picking out the safe hands of David De Gea.
Two in 17 minutes for Lukaku
That side of the pitch was to create the opening goal but at the wrong end from Burnley's point of view. Within seconds of McNeil's effort, Sanchez finished a crisp United move with a pinpoint cross to Lukaku who nodded the visitors ahead after drifting between Charlie Taylor and Ben Mee.
The duo joined forces again just moments later with Lukaku only thwarted by the speed of Hart coming off the line. Yet Burnley could not keep the deficit at one before the break after excellent work from Shaw found Lingard who fired a shot that cannoned off Mee and then Ashley Westwood before dropping into the path of Lukaku. The Belgian held his nerve to slot home his second of the game.
Pogba penalty pain before Rashford red
Burnley came out fired up after the break but struggled to create a chance of note. When they did threaten, McNeil was the creative influence again, this time picking out Chris Wood who finally found some room against an improved United defence before heading tamely at De Gea.
Yet the visitors continued to cause problems down the left and Shaw fired another effort at Hart. Even when Sanchez was replaced by Marcus Rashford the threat remained and should have created a third. The English youngster was tripped by his compatriot Aaron Lennon in the box and a penalty was awarded. Captain Paul Pogba placed the ball down, thwarting Lukaku of a chance to secure his hat-trick, but was matched by Hart who guessed the right way.
That moment sparked the game into chaos. Bardsley lunged into Rashford moments later, infuriating the United substitute. Rashford saw red in response and launched into Bardsley with a headbutt, in turn receiving his marching orders just ten minutes after coming on.
Vokes threatens as Lukaku wastes chances for a thrid
Burnley smelt an opportunity as Sam Vokes headed over from a free-kick but United's main striker also had two golden chances to secure the three points either side of that particular effort. Through on goal on both occasions, Lukaku was first thwarted by Hart before slowing down too much, allowing Mee to get back and hack the ball away.
Substitute Vokes remained the main threat for the hosts, as he did on Thursday evening. With minutes remaining he forced De Gea into a good stop as Burnley showed a presence in the air. James Tarkowski was then prevented a second goal of the campaign as De Gea made an excellent stop before league debutant Matej Vydra fired over the rebound.
United held firm during the late onslaught, in truth comfortably coming through a match they were easily the better side. Mourinho's men move into the top half of the table before the international period, whilst Sean Dyche will have to refocus his troops as they remain rooted in the relegation zone.