Tue. Jan 26th, 2021

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Man United proved their title credentials by leaving two players out vs Burnley

4 min read

Solskjaer’s selection choices

A scan of the Manchester United team sheet ahead of kick-off at Turf Moor showed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had picked a team to deal with a very unique threat.

Physicality was evidently the order of the day against Sean Dyche’s side, with Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba picked in midfield ahead of Scott McTominay and Fred, while Edinson Cavani was back in attack. Solskjaer said pre-match Eric Bally was desperate to play but he was probably the better option than Victor Lindelof and this wasn’t a night for testing out Axel Tuanzebe.

It was a horses for courses selection from Solskjaer but again it displayed the depth available to the United manager and what could be a crucial asset in the title race, because this side are now most definitely in contention for a 21st league title.

Fred and McTominay might be seen as United’s most regular midfield axis, but they’ve now sat out three of the last seven Premier League games from the start. United have won all of them.

That duo’s energy and ability to cover ground will probably mean they both start at Anfield on Sunday, but that they can do so having been rested in midweek is a massive bonus for Solskjaer.

He’s been determined to make changes all season, with the aim of keeping his players as fresh as possible as the season progresses, and he’s managing to do that without noticeably weakening the side. That could be crucial as this campaign progresses.


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Maguire’s ideal night

It didn’t take long for United to realise they were in a battle at Turf Moor, with the aerial bombardment starting early and continuing throughout the first half.

The back four all stood up to it pretty well but Harry Maguire, in particular, was excellent. The £80million centre back is a fitting image for this United side this season, recovering from a shaky start to get better and better as the campaign has gone on.

He’s still going to be unfairly judged at times due to that price tag but this was further evidence that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to the art of defending. He relished his battle with Ashley Barnes and after one superb early intervention he let out a wry smile when the striker landed on top of him. It looked like Maguire was enjoying himself.

He didn’t enjoy seeing his goal disallowed but he was defensively excellent throughout and avoided the booking that would have ruled him out of Sunday’s trip to Anfield. That would have been a disaster for United, which says everything about Maguire’s improvement this season, and this was another night where his partnership with Bailly looked a much better fit.

A new experience for Fernandes

I doubt there’s a Burnley equivalent in Portugal’s top flight so this was probably a new experience for Bruno Fernandes and he didn’t seem to particularly enjoy it.

A trip to Turf Moor is the modern-day version of a cold Tuesday in Stoke. Fernandes was holding his lower back early in the first half but by full-time a sore neck would have been his bigger problem.

We’ve already seen the Portugal midfielder has no problem getting his hands dirty, but he’s not immune to a whinge either and he was booked late in the first half for letting his frustration get the better of him.

He wasn’t alone, with Edinson Cavani also given a long talking to after getting fed up of his battle with James Tarkowski and Ben Mee. Thankfully there’s one trip a season to Turf Moor.

VAR madness

It took VAR official Stuart Atwell and referee Kevin Friend a long time to sort out the events that led to Luke Shaw being booked in the first half for a lunge on Johann Berg Gudmundsson.

Shaw took some of the ball when he dived in on Gudmundsson but in truth it looked a foul on first viewing when his outstretched leg caught the Burnley winger on the shin. It was a surprise Friend played on and that led to the shambolic scenes as the officials first considered sending off Robbie Brady, before then deciding it was a foul by Shaw and presumably checking whether he should be sent off as well.

It set the tone for an eventful game for the officials, with Friend disallowing Maguire’s header when he simply seemed to jump earlier and higher than Erik Pieters.

Solskjaer made his feelings perfectly clear when he suggested it was a “load of nonsense” late in the first half and his frustration was understandable.

Choose United’s man of the match vs Burnley

Away record

United now head to Anfield just two days short of going an entire calendar year without losing a domestic away game, their record now stretching to 22 games unbeaten.

It’s a staggering record and shows just how well suited this team are to playing on the road. It should give them confidence heading to Anfield, on an occasion when the pressure is all on Liverpool anyway.

The last time United were beaten away from home domestically was against Jurgen Klopp’s side on a day when the home fans began their title celebrations after Mo Salah’s late goals. Twelve months later it will be a very different game, which speaks volumes for United’s improvement.

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