I’m writing this on Christmas Day (evening), days after United somehow conspired to throw two points away at Leicester City in a game we created enough chances to win three times over. It was sickening to watch the hosts celebrate snatching an undeserved last-minute 2-2 draw at home as if they were Manchester City fans, but I guess the reality of what is actually unfolding in the top flight of English football this season still hasn’t managed to clamber into the consciousness of the army of United haters out there; they actually believe City are only going to be at the top for this season alone…
What that result confirms (as if it weren’t already the case) is that, barring the most catastrophic collapse ever seen in sporting history, Manchester City will be Champions by next May – we are now playing domestic league games to try to ensure we finish in the top 4 of the Premier League, preferably the top 3. Burnley visit Old Trafford this afternoon, themselves reeling from a comprehensive 0-3 defeat to a Harry Kane-inspired Tottenham Hotspur side who made light of the Clarets’ superb record at Turf Moor to win handsomely on Saturday.
Sean Dyche has done a wonderful job with the famous old Lancashire club, so much so that he is now mentioned in connection with any Premier League management job that comes vacant, most recently being touted as a possible successor to Ronald Koeman at Everton until Big Sam rode into Goodison Park.
United have been subjected to the expected mixture of ridicule (from opposing supporters) and anger (from some of our own fans, and some of it understandable at the lack of leadership displayed on the pitch in the closing minutes at Leicester City) after our late screw-up at the King Power Stadium, so I hope that helps to spur a reaction from our players, because anything less than a victory will simply give the chasing pack even more encouragement to intensify their pursuit of us. Oh, for a Roy Keane figure in our team now…
Here is my team selection for this game (4-2-3-1):
GK: David de Gea- once again, our keeper was largely faultless for what occurred at Leicester, though arguably he could have come out and tried to collect the late cross that Harry Maguire subsequently turned past him at the back post for the Foxes’ equaliser, but he, like us, probably thought Chris Smalling would have had it covered, little realising that United had made a hash of re-organising themselves after Smalling picked up a thigh strain moments earlier, and Maguire was being ‘marked’ by a man who couldn’t jump…hopefully he won’t have much to do today.
RB: Victor Lindelof- Lindelof is a growing influence for us at the back and just needs as much game time now as possible to bring him fully ‘up to speed’ with the English game…he is not an ideal right-back, but with Antonio Valencia unlikely to be fit to return after his recent hamstring strain, it tells you all you need to know what I think about Matteo Darmian (who IS a right-back) that I’d have Lindelof in there ahead of him.
LB: Luke Shaw- it should also, therefore, tell you how highly I rate this young man that I have no hesitation in giving him the left-back shirt, as for me he should be the United left-wingback for the next 10 years; whether that actually happens looks increasingly unlikely, as all the media speculation suggests Jose Mourinho wants to sell him next month, but I, for one, am mystified at that decision as I think Shaw has the potential to still become what we hoped he would when he arrived from Southampton.
CBs: Phil Jones & Marcos Rojo- With the exception of Eric Bailly (long-term injury casualty), I’d probably have selected these two at the start of the season as our best centre-back pairing if everyone was fit and available: now, I’d give them a go, as Chris Smalling is likely to be out with that thigh strain that gifted Maguire his goal on Saturday evening, and Victor Lindelof will hopefully feature at right-back. Jones & Rojo will face a physical battle with Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes, which is just the type of challenge they will relish and hopefully will win.
CMs: Paul Pogba & Nemanja Matic- the game at Leicester did prove one thing: the attacking aspect of our side was more than good enough to carve the Foxes open time and time again, and therefore naming these two as the base from which those attacks get built again for this clash with Burnley is a ‘no-brainer’. Pogba is just an immense talent, and my hope is that Mourinho continues to build a team around the boy, as his ability with a football is virtually unlimited. Matic is the perfect foil, a man who does the ‘dirty work’ and makes it look so easy…I still marvel that Chelsea allowed him to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer!
RM: Jesse Lingard- I still expect the net to bulge every time I see a replay of Jesse’s missed open-goal chance from last Saturday; he does all the hard work, takes the ball around Kasper Schmeichel, and then inexplicably fails to find the net…it is a testament to his ability that his failure drew gasps of shock from everyone who saw it. I hope he is itching to vent his disappointment and frustration at that miss on Burnley today.
CM(A): Juan Mata- Another virtuoso display with the ball at his feet from the veteran little Spanish wizard at Leicester simply showcased again what United will lose if the rumours of Juan’s departure next summer turn out to be founded in truth. Yes, he doesn’t have much pace and is now well the ‘wrong side’ of 30, but his ability to ‘unpick the lock’ of the tightest opposition defence is invaluable to this squad unless a younger model can be found. Once again, I’d expect Mata to be instrumental in helping us earn a victory today.
LM: Anthony Martial- Like Lingard, Martial was guilty of a truly shocking miss at the King Power, which ultimately cost us a win, and like Lingard, I’d expect the Frenchman to be more than keen to ‘make up’ for that costly error by putting Burnley to the sword this afternoon. Tony’s form has been largely good this season, and hopefully having Paul Pogba back in harness inside of him will inspire the young man to reach his peak levels over the coming months. Marcus Rashford had a poor game last time out, but some of the abuse this young lad has had lately from people who purport to be United fans on social media platforms is an absolute disgrace – if you don’t want to give support to young kids like Marcus coming into the team, GET LOST! You won’t be missed.
CF: Romelu Lukaku- the Belgian hitman played the role of provider against the Foxes, laying on several very decent chances for the likes of Lingard and Martial, and his general play in the game was very good. He’ll relish the physical battle he’ll get from the likes of Ben Mee, and I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t get the chance to extend his ‘goals scored’ tally today.
BENCH: Romero, Rashford, Young, Ibrahimovic, Blind, McTominay, Tuanzebe.
Dyche is no mug, and will have his team set up to be resilient and ‘hard to get around’, but United face that at Old Trafford against most visiting teams, and with Pogba and Mata in there to ‘pull the strings’, I have faith that we will eventually open the Clarets up and create some chances to beat Nick Pope. Whilst far from easy opposition, the recent long-term loss of Robbie Brady has badly hampered Burnley’s potency in attacking situations, and I hope we simply have too much threat for them to deal with in the end.
If you are going to the game, GET BEHIND all the lads in a positive manner for 90 minutes…if you can’t do that, then perhaps being a Manchester United fan is simply beyond you, because that’s what we do: support, through ‘thick’ and ‘thin’.