United’s Maguire risks
Of all the Manchester United players to come on before the interval in a Saturday night FA Cup tie against Championship opposition, Harry Maguire was the one who could have done without the playing time the most.
Prior to Watford’s visit, Maguire had started 19 consecutive Manchester United matches and he has only been completely rested for one fixture all season. The United captain even started at Luton in the Carabao Cup third round.
Maguire’s conditioning is not as much of a risk as his availability at Anfield, though. The 27-year-old is a booking away from a domestic suspension and certain to be involved in physical duels with Burnley’s bruise brothers Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes.
That Maguire was on the bench against Watford confirmed his starting status at Turf Moor. He has started in every Premier League game for United since he joined and, with top spot attainable, is not going to be rested for their biggest game of the season.
A slog, rather than a stroll?
United’s only defeat at Burnley in the Premier League era was on the night of Turf Moor’s maiden Premier League match in 2009 and, since Robbie Blake volleyed past Ben Foster on that balmy August night, Burnley have not scored past United at home and United have won their last four at the Clarets.
Yet United have not done a domestic double over Burnley in the top flight since Tommy Docherty was manager and Burnley have gone 2-0 up on their last three visits to Old Trafford, where they are unbeaten in four.
United’s easiest game at Burnley was at the start of 2018-19, when Burnley’s domestic form was compromised by Europa League qualifiers and even that ended 2-0. Chelsea are the only side to have scored more than once at Burnley in the league all season and they have lost two in their last nine – both away at Leeds and Manchester City.
With James Tarkowski and Ben Mee shielding goalkeeper Nick Pope, Burnley have one of the most robust defensive spines in the league and it is seldom a cakewalk for United against them.
Even if Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof were not on the team coaches United tonight have ample cover. Edinson Cavani is available to bolster the United attack, Alex Telles is a fine back-up option and Axel Tuanzebe or Eric Bailly are more suitable supplements for Maguire.
As Louis van Gaal once said, United have ‘only one player injured’ and Phil Jones is not even in their Premier League squad.
Top of the tree?
It should come as no shock that the last time United were at the summit after 17 matches was in 2012-13 and the last January they were top was in 2013.
They only need a point to leapfrog Liverpool but beating Burnley would give them a three-point cushion and open up the potential for ending the week at Anfield six points clear.