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Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney scored first-half goals to give Manchester United a comfortable 2-0 win over Burnley at Turf Moor.
Martial finished a devastating counter for the opener before creating Rooney’s poacher’s goal as United strolled to another three points.
The result moves United to within a point of Manchester City in fourth and leaves Burnley perhaps facing the reality of a relegation scrap after just one win in twelve games.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
Like Rashford, Martial can benefit from Ibra’s absence
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) April 23, 2017
The United squad may have shown cringe-inducing support for fallen duo Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic but, deep down, Anthony Martial was relishing in the latter’s absence. The Frenchman – Louis van Gaal’s MVP last season – has been marginalised and criticised by his manager in recent months but admirably stepped up to the plate here, starting and finishing a devastating counter-attack to put United one up.
Much of the post-match analyses of the win over Chelsea last week highlighted the potential for a more rapid, dynamic United utilising the skillsets of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard. But Martial, too, can thrive in a system which favours the more fleet-footed individual. That much was apparent at Turf Moor, where the 21-year-old followed in Rashford’s footsteps by getting United fans to their feet, their hearts beating a little quicker because of it.
It was Martial’s sheer pace that got United home and hosed before half-time. His opener – like Rashford’s against Chelsea – was a type of goal that is simply beyond Ibrahimovic’s capabilities, dispossessing Joey Barton before racing clear and laying it off to Ander Herrera, continuing his run and collecting the midfielder’s pass back to him before poking it beyond Tom Heaton. For the second, Martial skipped past the defender to create the chance for Rooney to bundle home.
That direct cutting edge and exhilarating change of pace that can prise defences open and change a game’s tempo in an instant has been regrettably absent from Martial this season but, with a run in the side now possible, he has the chance to resume last season’s service, as per Mourinho’s demands.
Burnley pick bad day to look like a relegation side
More often than not, Sean Dyche uses interviews and press conferences as an excuse to use the “nobody gave us a chance” card. It’s not that Dyche is delusional or has a debilitating inferiority complex: it’s actually because nobody did give the Clarets much of a chance. Why? Because they look like a team that could go down – that was easy to deduce from this game.
With Bournemouth, Hull City and Swansea City all picking up Saturday wins to leave Dyche squinting over his shoulder, Burnley’s players chose a terrible weekend to be this toothless. Defeat leaves Burnley very much in need of a response against Crystal Palace next week, otherwise they’ll risk being sucked deeper into the relegation dogfight that has lurked beneath them all season.
Marouane Fellaini was detailed to keep a close eye on Ashley Barnes and, with his threat nullified, Burnley were ponderous, static and utterly bereft of invention. Andre Gray was more enigmatic than exciting, George Boyd scampered anonymously about for an hour before being replaced, Jeff Hendrick lacked a creative edge and Robbie Brady’s main contribution to proceedings was to blast the ball straight at United’s bench in frustration after conceding a throw.
Stuck in second gear and unable to rattle United to any great extent, it added up to a comfortable assignment for the away side which leaves their hosts facing an intensely uncomfortable week ahead of their trip to Selhurst Park. The Clarets now have just one win in 12 games, which sounds an awful lot like relegation form.
Fellaini has come a long way since Everton
Fellaini vs Burnley
7 aerial duels won
33% tackles won
90% pass accuracy
— utdreport (@utdreport) April 23, 2017
Fellaini has often been a name to trigger ripples of consternation through United fans once they read it on the team-sheet. However, Mourinho has persisted with the sometime-cumbersome-sometime-strangely-effective Belgian in the centre of midfield – and he’s been repaid.
Although there’s a strong case for Fellaini being used further up the pitch to unnerve defenders with his aerial prowess and presence, he has been deployed effectively further back in recent weeks and he, once again, enjoyed a quietly impressive afternoon.
Herrera was unshackled against Burnley after last Sunday, where his afternoon was spent inserting chasing Eden Hazard around like a Pokemon and inserting him into his back pocket. Hazard escaped in time to send Chelsea to the FA Cup final, of course, while Herrera guided United to another three points. Only the Spaniard’s remit was different at Turf Moor, with licence to roam forward and influence the game in an attacking sense, an obligation he duly fulfilled, while Fellaini was the designated man-marker.
And man-mark he did, shifting Barnes to the periphery and shielding United’s defence with competence and measure. It was another unglamorous display by the erstwhile pantomime villain, but another satisfactory step in the right direction as he exorcises the demons of conceding that penalty to his former side, at his former ground, moments after coming on earlier this season – the nadir of his fluctuating popularity among United supporters.
Daniel Agyei may get opportunity to shine
In hope rather than expectation, Dyche threw 19-year-old striker Daniel Agyei into the mix to inject life into Burnley’s listless attack. Of course, due to United’s defensive organisation, the youngster’s impact was minimal. However, he certainly looked busier than Gray and Barnes, who were not even close to being on the same wavelength all afternoon.
With Agyei’s power and raw pace, Dyche may be tempted into making a bold change in personnel for next week’s crucial match at Palace. His involvement against United may have amounted to just a brief flicker, but it was enough to underline Burnley’s inability to stretch their opponents up to that point.
Starting Agyei against Palace would be fraught with risk and would leave Dyche facing some uncomfortable questions should it backfire but, at this point, Burnley are starting to look desperately short of ideas and could at least use Agyei’s enthusiasm and exuberance of youth.
Brilliant Bailly excels once again
Rojo’s injury was enough to cause a few murmurs of discontent among United fans regarding their lack of defensive manpower, but such a fate befalling Bailly would be enough to provoke full-scale panic.
That’s not to discredit Rojo’s contributions this season as the Argentine had been arguably enjoying his best period as a United player, but rather to emphasise Bailly’s brilliance.
Once again, the freakishly agile Ivory Coast international did everything in his power to stop Burnley reaching David de Gea, succeeding impressively. It completes an outstanding individual week for Bailly, who built on rock-solid performances against Chelsea and Anderlecht to cement his reputation as one of the Premier League’s fastest-improving defenders.
Bailly won 100% of his tackles, made four interceptions, three blocks and eight clearances at Turf Moor in another supremely confident, commanding display of defending which made de Gea’s afternoon much quieter than he would have expected.
United have missed Bailly this season, with injury and Africa Cup of Nations commitments getting in the way, but should he continue on the same trajectory he will be close to reaching Nemanja Vidic levels of authority at the back.