Burnley 0 Manchester United 2
United: Anthony Martial (21’) Wayne Rooney (39’)
Man of the Match: Martial (Manchester United)
There was a moment that seemed to encapsulate the reality of the declining Wayne Rooney. As Jesse Lingard found him and Rooney shaped too shoot, his feet gave way. He landed on his backside to the sound of cheers from the Burnley supporters. Betrayed by his body, mocked by his opposing fans, unable to take his chance: this, it seemed, is Rooney’s lot these days.
But not this day. Summoned from the sidelines, a fading force recalled more because others were unavailable than because of his own merits, he nonetheless could reflect on a successful comeback. His was not a vintage performance, but he delivered an important goal. It was scrappy and scruffy, but he plays for an arch-pragmatist and Jose Mourinho does not always award marks for style.
It would be an exaggeration to say Rooney offered reminders of his glory days. He did not so much rage against the dying of the light as chug around, his touch uncertain but his determination intact. But he started, for just the second time in 18 games, and scored, for only the seventh in 43. He made a telling contribution. So did the quicker, classier Anthony Martial. Fringe figures could yet assume central roles in the run-in.
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“The lads who have come in have given the manager something to think about,” said Rooney. “We’ve both scored.”
Each, in his own way, helped compensate for the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The top scorer’s season is over but United’s remains very much alive. They visit Manchester City on Thursday just one point behind their neighbours. They have two routes back into the Champions League – each is looking eminently possible.
They had suffered for their Europa League progress. Mourinho made eight changes and hailed the two starters who completed 120 minutes against Anderlecht. One is already a Manchester derby doubt, Pogba hobbling out of Turf Moor.
“Eric [Bailly] and Paul were heroes after two hours on Thursday,” Mourinho said. “The other boys [brought] fresh legs and fresh brains.”
Martial’s legs were fresher than most, his feet quicker. He was a catalyst for both goals. Criticised at times by Mourinho, he was praised now.
“He was very good, with and without the ball,” said the manager.
It was a reflection of Rooney’s deteriorating status that, even with Marcus Rashford rested, he is at best the fourth-choice striker. Martial spearheaded the attack instead, with the captain deployed on the left. Mourinho’s decision was justified when the Frenchman illustrated his pace when he sprinted clear to score. It was counter-attacking at its most blistering, Ander Herrera doing well to keep up with Martial during a swift exchange of passes, even if Rooney began the move by hooking the ball clear.
Martial’s speed was integral when Rooney struck, too. The Frenchman advanced beyond the Burnley defence and, while Tom Heaton repelled his shot, Rooney succeeded in forcing his effort in via Michael Keane.
“It is very rare it would sneak past Tom Heaton and then past Keano,” said Burnley manager Sean Dyche.
But his side were impotent. This was a second successive league game when United did not permit their opponents a shot on target. The defiant Bailly played as the stopper, Daley Blind sweeping up around him. Short of centre-backs, Mourinho urged Phil Jones or Chris Smalling to show “a crazy mentality like I have” and declare themselves fit on Thursday.
And this was a win that owed much to mentality. Mourinho named arguably his weakest Premier League side thus far, yet their prices amounted to over £300 million. Martial’s 25th United goal will cost them a further £8.5 million, but for all United’s investment, this was about an inner strength.
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