72% possession, 19 corners, 37 shots on goal with 11 of those on target; Manchester United did everything but score as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Burnley at Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho made two changes from the midweek win over Manchester City, with Matteo Darmian and Jesse Lingard replacing Antonio Valencia and Michael Carrick.
Manchester United leave Old Trafford with just a single point today, two points inexplicably dropped against one of the weaker sides in the Premier League and yet they played fantastically well. They created a multitude of chances, dominated possession, hit the woodwork and forced Tom Heaton into multiple saves. Just not Manchester United’s day or are there deeper problems?
Each time United had dropped points before today, a portion of the blame was directed at Paul Pogba. The world record fee, arrogant persona and flashy, confident style of play were always going to draw attention to him when he didn’t play well. His minimal impact and put extra pressure on him to perform.
Against Burnley, he did perform. The question marks about Pogba is how influential he can be from that deeper midfield role but today, despite the scoreline, Pogba answered those questions. He completed 90% of his passes, created six chances and dominated the pitch. His passing statistic demonstrate his influence; he covered every blade of grass and affected the game in every area of the pitch. Had Manchester United scored two or three of the chances he’d created, this would have been the Paul Pogba show. As things are, one of his better performances for Manchester United will go largely unnoticed.
If Pogba’s statistics were impressive, Juan Mata’s performance was equally as important to United’s attacking efforts. He completed 100% of his passes, created 8 chances and was Manchester United’s most influential attacking player until his substitution in the 73rd minute. A baffling decision in all honesty.
In previous seasons, there has been valid criticism of Mata’s inability to influence matches in central areas and his lack of physicality had prompted his positional switch to a role on the right-hand side. This season has been his best run of form for United and he’s been so influential in those central positions as an orthodox no.10. Dovetailing with Paul Pogba as the creative hub of the team, Mata spent the afternoon drifting into the spaces between the lines, getting on the ball in advanced areas and dictating the direction of each attack. Like with Pogba, had United converted any of the chances he created United would be celebrating an emphatic victory and Juan Mata would the jewel in Mourinho’s crown once more. A tale of what might have been.
One of the main reasons preventing United winning this afternoon was their wastefulness in front of goal. While Tom Heaton was easily Burnley’s best player, keeping out United’s 11 shots on target, United wasted 26 further attempts on goal. The biggest culprit was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who wasted 12 shots this afternoon by himself. In the last six matches, he’s taken 35 shots without scoring. If United are going to find a run of form, the Swede must start finding the back of the net or United’s impressive attacking play will be for nought.
One of the more impressive aspects of Manchester United’s performance was the continuation of their dominance despite going down to 10 men. After Ander Herrera was controversially dismissed in the 68th minute they remained in control of the game and continued to dominate possession. While the momentum stayed with United, two substitutions threatened to derail their efforts and had an adverse impact on the game when they were made.
Marouane Fellaini’s introduction at the expense of Juan Mata was particularly baffling. United’s most creative player removed in place of a more physical, less technically gifted footballer smacked of desperation and hinted at United’s desire to play more long balls into Burnley’s penalty area. A bizarre decision given the success Mata had been having up to that point. Fellaini completed just 10 passes, created 0 chances and rarely influenced proceedings in Burnley’s penalty area, if at all.
The other substitution involved Wayne Rooney’s arrival. In years gone by, this would have been his stage. Twenty minutes to go, nil-nil, United laying siege to the opponent’s goal. This had Rooney written all over it. Not today, though. Maybe not ever again.
He came on and completed just 83% of his passes. Significantly lower than the other players charged with unlocking Burnley’s defence. Worse than that, he rarely tried anything risky, opting for sideways passes of little to no consequence. On the one occasion, he attempted to play the ball into Burnley’s penalty area he failed to complete the pass and he blazed over the bar when given a wonderful chance to score. Arriving into the game fresh as he did, Rooney should have been able to drive United over the line. As it was he barely made an impact. His influence on this side is waning and the time has come when we can finally say Manchester United are better off without him.
Today was as mystifying as it was disappointing. This wasn’t like watching Louis van Gaal’s team, where United would only create two or three chances and so failing to score was at least became a logical conclusion. United dominated from start to finish. They could have had two penalties, they hit the woodwork, Tom Heaton had the game of his life in the Burnley goal and chance after chance after chance came and went in front of the Stretford End. The positives are there to take; United played well and showed real signs that the team is beginning to function the way Jose Mourinho wants. The negatives are abundantly clear; two more points dropped, another game without a goal for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a suspension for Ander Herrera. United must now dust themselves off and go again. There’s still plenty left to fight for this season.