Anthony Martial’s superbly-taken second-half strike was enough to secure all three points for Manchester United away to Burnley on Saturday afternoon. It was a hard-fought victory for Jose Mourinho’s side, who put in a resolute defensive display as the Clarets put the visitors under pressure towards the end of the game, in search of the equalising goal.
Mourinho made just one change to the side that comfortably saw off Stoke City in a 3-0 victory on Monday night, with Ashley Young coming in for Luke Shaw at left-back having completed his three-match suspension.
The opening 45 minutes of football at Turf Moor offered little in terms of action, with both sides seemingly reluctant to commit too many men forward and leave themselves vulnerable to a potential counter-attack. Paul Pogba, who put in a man of the match performance on Monday night, looked the most likely to unlock a stubborn and well-organised Burnley defence, as he began the match in a more advanced role, with the ever-impressive Nemanja Matic stationed behind him.
Despite being in the form of his life in front of goal, Jesse Lingard carried out his defensive duties to great effect and was the busiest player on the pitch, regularly tracking back and helping out in defence to nullify Burnley’s attacking threat. Whilst the first-half was a closely-fought battle, we were yet to witness any shots on target and it was clear that United needed to step up the pace in the second 45 if they were to leave Turf Moor with all three points and keep up their pressure on league leaders Manchester City.
It did not take the visitors long to finally break Burnley’s resistance. After a quiet opening half, Romelu Lukaku came to life just inside the Clarets’ half, powering his way onto a loose ball before getting his head up and spotting Martial unmarked on the edge of the left-hand side of the box, as Lingard’s clever run into the box drew Burnley’s defenders towards him, leaving the Frenchman in acres of space.
After controlling the Belgian’s perfect pass, Martial was not closed down enough by former Red Phil Bardsley and the 22-year-old powered a shot that flew past goalkeeper Nick Pope and into the net off the crossbar. It was a strike that marked the Frenchman’s 11th goal of the season and further underlined his growing importance to Mourinho.
Burnley, however, refused to cave in and very nearly struck an immediate response. Having given away a needless foul in a dangerous position, winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson beat David de Gea all ends up as he curled the resulting free-kick perfectly over the wall only, only to be denied by the crossbar. It was a moment that should have reminded United that they could not afford to be complacent and that they would require a second goal in order to be able to see the game out comfortably.
However, the visitors were wasteful in possession and invited unnecessary pressure onto themselves. Gudmundsson once again came close to making United pay for not killing the game off, as his inviting low ball into the box caused panic amongst the United defence, with James Tarkowski and Jack Cork agonisingly close to poking home an equaliser.
A few minutes later, a surging run from deep inside his own half saw Pogba find himself in a 3 v 1 situation on the edge of the opponent’s box and instead of picking out one of Martial or Lukaku, who were unmarked either side of the Frenchman, the 24-year-old went for glory, only to see his effort blocked.
As the clock ticked down to 90 minutes, Martial took on Bardsley inside the Burnley box, only for his rasping left-footed effort to be palmed away by Nick Pope.
United entered the five minutes of stoppage time knowing that they could not afford a repeat of the Leicester game back in December when they threw away their lead and conceded a last-gasp equaliser. Despite the pressure applied by the hosts from a number of set-pieces, United stood firm to make it four wins out of four since the turn of the year and are yet to concede a single goal.
It was a professional performance that will please Mourinho, as his side safely navigated their way through a tricky away fixture and must now prepare themselves for Friday night trip’s to Yeovil Town in the FA Cup fourth round.