Manchester United 0-0 Burnley Analysis: Dyche strives for more

Tom Heaton's virtuoso goalkeeping performance, Dyche's quest for improvement and the return of not one, but two strikers for the Clarets

Manchester United 0-0 Burnley Analysis: Dyche strives for more
A good afternoon's work for Burnley (Photo: Getty Images)

Sean Dyche celebrated the fourth anniversary of his appointment as Burnley manager with a hard-earned point against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Fittingly, the performance from his side typified the dogged, resolute nature imbued in them from their similarly firm manager, with United alumni Tom Heaton and Michael Keane excelling on their return to where their careers began.

Burnley’s defence weathered the storm for the entirety of the match, as Jose Mourinho’s side dominated proceedings, creating numerous chances, but finishing none.

Heaton’s memorable display

United’s profligacy hinged on a handful of key factors: stern defending from their visitors; misfortune for some opportunities and a lack of composure for others; and the sheer defiance of Heaton, who refused to wilt amid the glare of thousands of home fans, all hoping for a lapse in concentration.

But it was not to come. The England international made 11 saves, matching his own record for the season in the game against Southampton earlier this month, while the former United keeper’s bravery saw him claim several crosses ahead of the looming frame of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The dreams of the former Sweden international will have been haunted by the fluorescent figure in Burnley’s goal: of United’s 37 shots – their highest total in a league game for six years - nearly a third (12) of them came from Ibrahimovic, and four of them were denied by Heaton.

The variety of saves was equally as astounding as the quantity: the comfortable grasps from efforts by Ibrahimovic and Jesse Lingard; the flying fingertip stop to deny the latter from a first-half header; the sprawling drive to prevent Juan Mata from close range in the second; and the crowning moment – a huge reflex save to deny Ibrahimovic once more from close range.

Dyche still seeks improvement

For the discrepancy in resources, holding a club the size of Manchester United to a 0-0 draw on their own territory is a testament to the resilience and camaraderie among the Burnley ranks.

Sean Dyche demands more from his players (Photo: Getty Images)

But Dyche’s will for more from his team – “There’s still improvements to be made, especially with the ball”, he told reporters after the match – is another indication of how much belief he has in the squad.

Burnley completed 160 passes out of 238 they attempted, which is their second lowest total of the campaign. All of United’s outfield players also completed more passes than any of the visitors’, while the hosts most frequent passing combination, Paul Pogba to Ibrahimovic (17), was more than double that of the Clarets’ highest (8), Dean Marney to Matthew Lowton – a central midfielder to a supporting right-back.  

Dyche clearly felt there was a higher level of composure achievable when in possession, but United’s eagerness to win – even after Ander Herrera’s dismissal – remained untainted, so much so that space at times felt limited, even with a man advantage, and so time was at a premium to identify a target and execute a pass.

But the Burnley manager’s verdict speaks volumes about the change in mentality the club have experienced during his tenure: not only do they want to hold their own against teams like United, they want to take the game to the opposition and threaten them offensively.

Not one, but two boosts in the striking ranks

The enforced absences of Andre Gray (suspension) and Ashley Barnes (injury) had left Burnley’s striking options wafer thin: Sam Vokes was tasked with the role of a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation during Gray’s ban, while Patrick Bamford remained the only viable deputy available in a central, attacking role.

But in true London bus fashion, Gray and Barnes both returned to the matchday squad at Old Trafford, with the former being thrust straight back into the starting line-up (a 4-4-2 formation) while the latter occupied a place on the bench.

In a game where Burnley’s defence was always going to be the platform around which the game developed, Gray was not afforded the opportunity to reignite that partnership with Vokes that has become so devastating. Instead, the pair fed off scraps and clearances, with a second half burst from Gray the only real sight of goal either had throughout the match.

When the former Brentford man was withdrawn, Barnes was given his first taste of competitive football this season, and played with the same energy and aggressiveness which has endeared him to Burnley fans since his arrival at the club.

His effervescence nearly earned the Clarets a second penalty in as many away games, after visiting supporters felt Marcos Rojo had given Barnes a shove in the back in the box, before the striker nearly steered a glancing header past David De Gea to snatch the three points with time running out.

The return of the pair bodes well for the future and, with Steven Defour nearing a comeback from a hamstring injury, the Clarets can head into November full of confidence.