Tuesday 20 March 2018

Berbatov makes up for United’s loss of swagger

Berbatov 64, Rooney 69, Diouf 90

Dimitar Berbatov scores the key first goal for Manchester United Photo: Getty Images
Dimitar Berbatov scores the key first goal for Manchester United Photo: Getty Images

Tim Rich

DESPITE the fact that no Burnley manager since Harry Potts, the man who took them to the championship in 1960, had won here, Old Trafford was a safe place for Brian Laws to start. Nobody expected very much.

The left-field nature of his appointment can be gauged from the fact that, when he walked over to salute his club’s supporters before kick-off, it was his first real involvement in top-flight football since he formed part of the Nottingham Forest side that Brian Clough led on a whisky-slicked road to relegation in 1993.

Until Dimitar Berbatov held off his marker to score, Laws could have claimed to have had the better chances; ones which David Nugent and Steven Fletcher failed to seize. But, as always with Manchester United, the rule is that if you are going to win, you had better score the first goal. In August, Burnley had and managed to cling on.

As Alex Ferguson remarked, had Nugent or Fletcher done what Robbie Blake had at Turf Moor, Manchester United might have been “embarrassed”. “We felt that, if we counterattacked with pace, it has been evident in recent weeks that United have found that an issue,” Laws reflected.

“We had two real quality chances to score. It will change overnight when Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic get back, and they are still picking up points, aren’t they?”

A glance at Manchester United’s Premier League results shows that largely it has been business as usual at Old Trafford. At home, they have now faced seven of the teams that either finished in the bottom half of the Premier League or were promoted, winning six and drawing one with a collective scoreline of 18-3.

And yet there is something missing, something lithe, self-centred and brilliant, who played for Real Madrid in a losing cause in Bilbao on Saturday. It is on afternoons like this that United miss Cristiano Ronaldo, a man who used to sow fear into sides like Burnley. Despite what Ferguson said in his post-match interview, teams these days rarely come to Old Trafford and place 10 men behind the ball.

It says something for United’s loss of swagger that of those seven teams only one, Wigan, has been brushed aside. Nevertheless, the gap between United and Chelsea is still manageable, and on Saturday Antonio Valencia manfully filled the gap left by Ronaldo’sdeparture.

As for Burnley, without a win in three months, Laws still has to act fast if they are not to become this year’s Hull, surprising everyone before sliding almost uncontrollably down. Hull had six more points in total at this stage of the season. That figure is the minimum number of away points the Burnley goalkeeper, Brian Jensen, reckons his side need to have a chance. This morning they have one.

Manchester United: (4-4-2) Van der Sar; Neville, Brown, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick (Anderson, 66), Nani; Berbatov (Owen, 73), Rooney (Diouf, 74). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (g), Park, F Da Silva, R Da Silva.

Burnley: (4-1-4-1) Jensen; Mears, Duff, Edgar, Jordan; Alexander; Nugent, Elliott, McDonald (Gudjonsson, 73), Eagles (Blake, 83); Fletcher (Thompson, 36). Substitutes not used: Penny (g), Kalvenes, Eckersley, Guerrero.

Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).

Man of the match: Valencia.

Attendance: 75,120.

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