Manchester United desperately needed a victory after another difficult week of torment and distress, and securing their first win in four games will at least quieten some of the noise that had threatened to become deafening. Yet, Erik ten Hag’s team were once again second best in this contest.
Not for the first time this season Burnley will pat themselves on the back for a decent performance featuring some eye-catching football, but Vincent Kompany’s side are still without their first victory since promotion. There is the threat of damning them with faint praise.
From box to box, the home team were the dominant outfit. Kompany has remained true to his coaching principles and even though they have fallen to three defeats and one draw so far, they continue to play the game in an expansive and easy-on-the-eye way.
Aaron Ramsey and Luca Koleosho were both impressive in the first half especially but for as long as Burnley lack a predator in the penalty area, goals will continue to remain somewhat elusive.
Burnley may have dominated possession (62 per cent to 38) and also had more shots but United were more clinical and made the most of their best opening. Bruno Fernandes’s beauty of a volley on the cusp of half time saved United from the embarrassment of losing four successive games for the first time since December 2015.
Story of the game
A visit to a venue at which United have not lost for over 14 years was always going to offer the chance for Ten Hag’s team to regain the winning feeling. Even if they came in smarting from another chastening evening against Bayern Munich when the final scoreline did not truly do justice to their inferiority.
Jonny Evans, Hannibal Mejbri and Scott McTominay were brought in for this away trip as United continue to manage a squad heavily impacted by injuries. The sight of Raphael Varane, out injured for a month, and Sofyan Amrabat, signed in the summer but also out injured, coming off the bench later on will certainly be welcomed by Ten Hag.
Kompany was without his suspended striker Lyle Foster, who was sent off late in the draw away to Nottingham Forest on Monday. It meant Ramsey was drafted in and the 20-year-old played his part in the hosts’ authoritative start.
It was all crisp passing and neat interchanges for Burnley. Josh Cullen crossed for Zeki Amdouni, whose shot was pushed away by Andre Onana. Koleosho’s first run down the left wing at Diogo Dalot extracted a foul and a yellow card from the United full back while Ramsey fed Amdouni and his shot came back off the upright.
All the home team lacked was a commanding presence in the area who could turn their intricate team moves into a tangible lead.
Despite being second best, Ten Hag’s men thought they had scored against the run of play midway through the first half when Evans, starting in place of the injured Lisandro Martinez, headed in Fernandes’s corner, but Rasmus Hojlund had blocked James Trafford’s view from an offside position.
Yet, as Burnley looked set to head in at the break level and appraising a very encouraging first half, United struck. It was technique of the highest order from the United captain. Evans clipped a ball in behind the Burnley back line and Fernandes ran in between Charlie Taylor and Jordan Beyer and struck a right-footed volley sweetly into the bottom corner.
The throng of United supporters in the Ladbrokes Stand were, as ever, loud in the backing of their team and equally keen in chanting their condemnation towards the club’s owners. Witnessing a sumptuous goal by their captain and also seeing would would become a rare clean sheet was no doubt savoured given the team’s recent offerings.
Hojlund had chances to add to United’s lead either side of the interval. The Dane, who opened his United account in midweek, strayed offside before lifting an effort over the crossbar and then failed to turn in an inviting cross from Dalot.
Shortly afterwards, Hojlund was ready to pounce onto a Marcus Rashford knock down only for Ameen Al-Dakhil to clear the danger just in time. Burnley remained a threat and still had the running in midfield. Kompany sent on fresh legs after 73 minutes and his substitutes continued to carry the fight to United.
Such profligacy is already damaging Burnley’s quest for their first three points of the season. For United, Fernandes’s strike brought much needed salvation; for now, at least.
Player of the game: Bruno Fernandes
When Ten Hag needed his captain to stand up and deliver, the Portuguese international did just that by striking a superb volley to bring United three desperately-needed points.
It was great technique by Fernandes to time his run between two Burnley defenders, allow the ball to drop over his shoulder and then dispatch a strike that flew into the bottom corner. That moment of quality was the difference between the two sides.