Manchester United won a scrappy game 1-0 at Burnley; Anthony Martial crashing a shot in off the crossbar to give the Red Devils all three points. Burnley did have a couple of moments though, and United’s wastefulness and carelessness could have come back to haunt them. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and Alexis Sanchez’s impending arrival should improve the efficiency and ruthlessness of United’s attack.
Here are some of the major talking points from the game:
Martial blossoming under Mourinho
Last season, Anthony Martial was at the end of a fair bit of criticism from Jose Mourinho, and the Frenchman used to struggle to make matchday squads, let alone the starting XI. Mourinho’s tough love approach seems to have paid off, as Martial scored his 11th goal of the season at Burnley, having now scored in three successive league games. He had only managed eight in total last season; his improved displays on the left flank this term have pushed him ahead of Marcus Rashford in the pecking order. Martial was always one of the best finishers at the club, but under Mourinho, he now tracks back to help out his fullback, and is far less wasteful in front of goal. His link-up play has also improved immensely, and his dribbling remains superb, with the Frenchman able to go past any player with ease. Martial faces another challenge for his place in the side with the soon-to-be confirmed arrival of Alexis Sanchez, but on current form, one wouldn’t put it past him to see off this challenge too.
Phil Jones becoming United’s best defender
Phil Jones has finally managed to put his injury woes somewhat behind him; he did pick up an injury on international duty earlier in the season, but had put together a run of games before then, and has done so since as well. In doing so, he is finally looking like an accomplished defender, making his partner better as well. His was a composed performance, rarely letting Burnley get in behind, and quite proactive with the ball as well. He remains a competent passer out from the back, while his reading of the game is also improving on a game-by-game basis. United’s defensive solidity has owed a lot to Jones in recent weeks, and in the absence of Eric Bailly, Jones is fast becoming the best defender at the club, a title that many thought he would one day have upon his arrival, even though it’s taken far longer than hoped.
Sanchez cannot arrive soon enough
It is somewhat harsh on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but the reality is that the Armenian failed to impose himself or show off his creative talents to the fullest during his time at Old Trafford. Alexis Sanchez is a player on a different level, who will hopefully take United to the next level as well. As Mourinho alluded to after the game, there is too little competition in attack for United, compounded by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury and Mkhitaryan’s impending departure. United have looked sloppy in front of goal in recent weeks, often making the wrong decision and killing promising moves. This was the case at Turf Moor as well, with Martial, Pogba and Rashford all guilty of wasting good chances through poor decision-making. Sanchez’s arrival should change that; in addition to his own quality, he is a ferocious competitor, which should raise standards all across the pitch. United will hope that the Chilean will propel them to greater heights, a la Robin van Persie half a decade ago.