Manchester United could only manage to draw with Burnley at Old Trafford, coming back from a 2-0 deficit. Yet again, shoddy defending of set-pieces cost United, as Ashley Barnes scored an early goal after the Red Devils failed to clear the box from a free-kick. Burnley doubled their lead with a fantastic free-kick from Steven Defour, and United went into the half-time break trailing by two goals. Jose Mourinho introduced Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo at half-time, moving Nemanja Matic to centre-back; and Lingard vindicated the move with a finely-taken brace to ensure United got at least a point from the game.
The following are the major talking points from the game:
Set-piece defending turning into a bugbear
Manchester United have looked extremely shaky defending set-pieces in recent games, with the most stark example coming in the derby defeat at Old Trafford, when Manchester City scored both their goals from set-pieces. Here too, Burnley scored from their first set-piece opportunity, as Romelu Lukaku’s poor clearing header fell kindly for Ashley Barnes to turn and volley into the net. Steven Defour’s magnificent free-kick could not have been defended; however, the free-kick itself was a needless giveaway. United, despite having a number of tall, physically imposing players, are unable to defend their box from set-pieces, or even high crosses in general, and Jose must sort out this issue on the training ground before it becomes a weakness for opposition managers to exploit.
Jesse Lingard proving to be undroppable
Jesse Lingard is not a world-class footballer, but he has been putting in a series of crucial performances in a Red shirt over the last month and a half. He’s made the #10 role his own, providing intensity and movement off the ball, and a surprising goalscoring streak when on it. He was rested from the start here, but came on at half-time to rescue the game as United stared at a 2-0 deficit. Having copped a lot of stick for missing an empty net against Leicester on the weekend, Lingard opened the scoring for United with an impudent backheel from Ashley Young’s cross. His second, deep into stoppage-time, was a cleanly-struck volley which found the bottom corner. The quality of Lingard’s finishing, and indeed his overall play, has improved by leaps and bounds this season, and on this evidence, he cannot afford to be left out of the side.
Groundswell of opinion slowly starting to turn against Mourinho
Jose Mourinho has enjoyed near-total support from the United faithful since his appointment, as the fans recognised that he was a serial winner; the best bet for taking United back to winning ways. Last season’s disappointing league finish was mitigated by the Europa League and EFL Cup wins; however, with this summer’s transfer activity, United were expected to challenge for the title. They are currently second in the table, albeit they could be 15 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City by the end of Thursday night. Mourinho’s style of football, his abrasiveness, his proclivity to pick fights and see plots all around him, are all bearable as long as he is winning. Four dropped points in the last two games means that there is unrest brewing in the stands, as the chasing pack close in as well. The title is surely gone, and given that Jose’s second season is usually his strongest before a third-season collapse, fans are wondering if this is the best it is ever going to get under the Portuguese. There is no sign of protest or revolt yet; fans continue to sing Jose’s name and support the team. However, City’s slick football across town is putting things in perspective, and Jose’s irksome attacks on his own fans do not help either. It is an uneasy alliance as of now, one which will only worsen if results and form do not make a move for the better.