“The stadium was full of real support and it looks like the love people have for this club is bigger than bad results. We must give something back.” José Mourinho’s words were part of what seemed liked a humble apology in the wake of last weekend’s thrashing by Chelsea. In the end, his side secured a much-needed win over rivals Manchester City in the League Cup. Old Trafford offered its unwavering support, and Mourinho humbly bowed to supporters in seeking forgiveness.
United’s players made their apologies on the pitch, as it should be. The game was no classic, but that was far from United’s main challenge on Wednesday. Mourinho’s men desperately needed the win to stop the rot, and while City made nine changes it did not matter to manager, players or fans. Confidence has been rebuilt and the upcoming fixture list presents an opportunity to close the gap on the Premier League’s pace setters.
After four difficult games in the space of nine days Old Trafford welcomes newly promoted Burnley, with the Reds looking to build on a promising performance in mid-week. Victories over City and Fenerbahçe, coupled with a draw against Liverpool, might have been acceptable 12 days ago. Yet, the Reds’ patchy form over the season means Saturday’s game against the Clarets is effectively a must win.
Mourinho’s side is just six points behind leaders City though, albeit a win on Sunday cannot take the Reds any higher than sixth in the table. Yet, winnable upcoming fixtures provide an opportunity to build some much-needed momentum. United faces Swansea City after Saturday’s game, before welcoming Arsenal and an inconsistent West Ham United to Old Trafford before the end of November. Couple that with games against Feyenoord and Fenerbahçe and Mourinho’s side might view the next month with some hope.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]José Mourinho’s made what seemed liked a humble apology in the wake of last weekend’s thrashing by Chelsea. His side secured a much-needed win over rivals Manchester City. The players made their apologies on the pitch.[/blockquote]
Still, Burnley has proven to be hard to beat so far this season and lies 14th in the Premier League. The Clarets recorded impressive wins over Liverpool and Everton, and made Arsenal work hard in a 1-0 defeat last month. The inconsistency comes in heavy defeats to Chelsea, Leicester City and Southampton.
Inconsistency is also a concern for Mourinho, of course, with the Reds trying to protect a 12 match unbeaten home streak against Burnley.
“In the last seven matches, we lost one. It is better to lose one match 4-0 than four matches 1-0. It is three points all the same,” Mourinho said.
“Our run of results is not bad. We lost two points against Stoke, which was the best match by far in our season in terms of chance creation. We are a team in process, we won’t do that in three or four months, in this moment we just think about it game by game. Burnley will be very difficult. We know it will be tough for us, especially because we come off a run of five matches with only two days in between.”
Mourinho should be all too aware of the threat posed by Burnley, however inconsistent. He experienced it in his last title-winning season at Chelsea when his Blues were defeated by Burnley at Stamford Bridge. The Clarets repeated the feat by doing the same to Manchester City.
United subs from: Romero, Rojo, Darmian, Fosu-Mensah, Carrick, Fellaini, Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan, Memphis, Rooney
Burnley subs from: Flanagan, Bamford, Robinson, Gray, Tarkowski, Darikwa, Long, O’Neill
United gained a dose of renewed confidence in mid-week, but the attention quickly shifts back to the Premier League. Despite trailing leaders City by just six points, it may take an unbeaten run through November to bring United into the title mix.
Antonio Valencia, who has been United’s finest player in recent weeks, is likely to be joined by Chris Smalling, Daley Blind and Luke Shaw at the back. Smalling is fit again and comes back into the team despite being partly at fault in all four of Chelsea’s goals last weekend. Marcos Rojo drops to the bench, although Shaw is under pressure after a mixed performance against City. The left-back was often exposed by Blues’ winger Jesus Navas.
In midfield, Michael Carrick made a strong case for inclusion after a fine display against City. The Geordie was the subject of praise by Mourinho before Saturday’s game, with the Portuguese wishing he could “stop the clock” and allow Carrick to prolong his United career. Still, with two games a week a drain on the veteran, Morgan Schneiderlin may come in after an impressive cameo on Wednesday.
Ander Herrera, Wednesday’s best player, lines up alongside Paul Pogba in central midfield. United’s world-record signing was sloppy in possession at times, but unlucky not to get on the score sheet.
Zlatan Ibrahimović’s lacklustre performance against City has amplified calls for the Swede to be rested, although he did well to set up Juan Mata’s winning goal. Ibrahimović missed a clear-cut opportunity to make it 2-0 and could be replaced up-front by Marcus Rashford if Mourinho decides a break is due. Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney is fit again.
Anthony Martial returns on the left after sitting out Wednesday night’s win. The Frenchman’s pace, coupled with Rashford’s drive, will be a concern for Burnley’s leaky defence. Mata should retain his place on the right after another excellent performance midweek.
United remains in a good position to chase down the leaders despite talk of crisis in recent weeks. But Mourinho’s side must build on the momentum of Wednesday’s victory. Supporters will know soon enough whether the Reds are ready to challenge once again.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistants: J Collin, R West
Fourth Official: K Friend
United 3-0 Burnley