Burnley 0 Manchester United 1
A stunning, second-half volley from Paul Pogba helped Manchester United ascend to the summit of the Premier League on Tuesday evening, as the Reds overcame Burnley 1-0 at Turf Moor.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were left frustrated after the first 45 in east Lancashire, after Harry Maguire’s header was ruled out for a debatable foul on Erik Pieters, but we dominated possession after the interval and got our reward when the Frenchman struck with just under 20 minutes remaining.
The hosts piled on the pressure in the final stages in search of a late equaliser, but United’s rearguard – led superbly throughout by Maguire and Eric Bailly – dug in admirably to earn a second clean sheet in the last three Premier League games.
It means United head to Anfield for our next league game on Sunday with a three-point advantage over last year’s champions.
FIRST HALF – TETCHY AT TURF MOOR
Any vague hope that Burnley would let United sail to the top of the league without much of a challenge was quickly vanquished. Sean Dyche’s men are famed for their aggressive, inhospitable welcomes for each and every opponent, and the early stages followed that traditional pattern to the letter. Long balls forward, jousting for knock-ons, fighting for every scrap – this was the full English.
It took until about 15 minutes before the Reds could settle down into any rhythm, with Nemanja Matic increasingly dropping into the back four to add weight to the build-up play. We were rewarded with speculative chances for Fernandes, which Burnley blocked, and Martial, who spooned his left-footed shot over. But just as United had seemed to establish some modicum of dominance, Bailly did well at the other end to dive in and deny a goal-bound Chris Wood effort.
The real drama of the half, however, arrived on 27 minutes. Shaw put in a strong tackle on Gudmundsson, launching a counter-attack that ended with Robbie Brady fouling Edinson Cavani, who had latched on to a raking through ball from Fernandes and appeared to be through on goal. Controversially, after an interminable wait as VAR checked both fouls, play was brought back and a Burnley free-kick was awarded, and Shaw’s initial foul punished by a yellow card. Thankfully, the subsequent Clarets set piece sailed harmlessly out of play.
The end result of the whole hoo-ha was probably frustration for both teams, and there was more to come for United a few minutes later, when Harry Maguire headed home a deep Shaw cross, only for referee Kevin Friend to blow up. The Reds ended the first period well on top, though, with the pick of their later efforts a 25-yard Martial curler that drew a smart save from England international Nick Pope.
SECOND HALF – POGBA DELIVERS AND UNITED DIG IN
As if annoyed by those first-half frustrations, Solskjaer's men came out after the interval with purpose, almost instantaneously dominating possession, with Burnley reduced to thrashing the ball clear. Within barely 10 minutes, Fernandes had attempted three strikes at Pope’s goal, while Cavani miskicked a decent opening after more intense pressure inside the box.
The Uruguayan came closer on 67 minutes, when an attempted clearance from a United corner fell to him inside the box. He stealthily worked a yard, with all the cold elan of a predatory striker, but couldn’t locate the top corner with his left foot amid a sea of bodies.
But mercifully, just as the finish line was less than 20 minutes away for the hosts, Rashford chipped a cute ball from the right-hand side of the box and found Pogba, rushing forward, who met the cross with a glorious volley that helpfully nudged off Lowton and flew past Pope – somewhat fortunate, perhaps, but it was a richly deserved breakthrough.
Now a test for the defence, as Burnley finally poured forward and bared their attacking teeth. In the final 15 they earned openings for Brownhill and Vydra, before Tarkowski spurned a glorious opening in the dying moments.
But United clung on, as if to show the team's steel and resolve to the rest of the league, and probably should have made it a more comfortable winning margin inside injury time, when Pope saved well with his legs after Cavani put Martial clean through.
Turf Moor triumph Gallery
Take a look at these pics from United's Premier League win over Burnley.
United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire (c), Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Rashford (Greenwood 80), Fernandes (McTominay 89), Martial (Tuanzebe 90); Cavani.
Subs not used: Henderson, Telles, Fred, van de Beek, James, Mata.
Goal: Pogba 71.
Booked: Shaw, Fernandes,
Aston Villa: Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee (c), Pieters; Gudmundsson, Brownhill, Westwood, Brady (McNeil 65); Wood (Vydra), Barnes (Rodriguez 88).
Subs not used: Norris, Bardsley, Long, Benson, Cork, Stephens.