Wednesday 17 January 2018

Double from Chris Smalling lifts disappointing Man United to third

Man Utd 3 Burnley 1

Manchester United's Robin Van Persie scores his side's third goal
Manchester United's Robin Van Persie scores his side's third goal
Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj and Burnley's Scott Arfield battle for the ball
Manchester United's Chris Smalling challenges Burnley's Ashley Barnes

Mark Ogden

On the face of it, Joel and Avram Glazer could look at the Premier League table and reflect on £153m well spent after making a rare visit to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United climb to third with this victory.

But United's American owners would be foolish to believe that Louis van Gaal now has United on an upward curve following last summer's mammoth investment in the squad.

Two Chris Smalling goals and a Robin van Persie penalty may have secured the points against Burnley, who were led impressively by goalscoring forward Danny Ings, but United were nothing less than abject for long periods.

They rode their luck and failed to impress, but in a week of statistics and numbers, third place is third place, no matter how unconvincing their performance, United somehow took care of business.

With Van Gaal having allowed the fallout from Sunday's draw at West Ham descend into a schoolyard row over which team hoofed the most long balls forward, the onus was on the Dutchman's players to silence the debate with a vibrant and comprehensive display.

But with Burnley almost scoring inside three minutes, with former United youngster Michael Keane heading Scott Arfield's corner wide from five yards, the signs were not promising for the home side.

And the sight of defender Phil Jones limping off injured after just five minutes was another worrying development for Van Gaal.

But Jones' misfortune inadvertently led to United opening the scoring through Smalling, his replacement, who headed into the net just 22 seconds after entering the fray.

It was a poor goal for Burnley to concede, with the visitors allowing United three headers inside the six-yard box before the ball nestled in the back of goalkeeper Tom Heaton's net. Van Persie's near-post flick was headed back into the centre of the area by Radamel Falcao and Smalling, left unmarked, directed his looping header into the net.

After the early scare, United looked to have given themselves the platform on which to mount the convincing victory they needed, not only for crucial points but to raise belief and morale on and off the pitch.

But instead, Smalling's goal brought United to a shuddering halt and merely energised Sean Dyche's team into a spirited response.

Despite the loss of cruciate ligament victim Dean Marney, whose injury forced Dyche to change his starting line-up for the first time in 11 games, Burnley quickly gained control of midfield.

United were terrible. Their play lacked cohesion and any kind of strategy and Burnley, inspired by the tireless running and movement of Ings, pressed United back, deeper and deeper into their own territory.

Michael Kightly forced a save from David de Gea after being released by Ings before the England U-21 forward levelled the scores on 12 minutes.

Kieran Trippier, a full-back deemed not good enough for Manchester City, delivered a pinpoint cross from the right and Ings pulled away from Smalling to send a diving header into the far corner.

It was fully deserved and Burnley, sensing the uncertainty in the United team, continued to pour forward.

Ings was denied another goal by Marcos Rojo before Ashley Barnes shot narrowly wide from 25 yards. United, meanwhile, looked lost.

Sarcastic

The injury-enforced withdrawal of Daley Blind, due to a cut eye, saw Ander Herrera introduced as his replacement to loud cheers, but Burnley's supporters responded with sarcastic chants of "We've only spent three quid" a barbed reference to Van Gaal's £153m spending spree.

It was a stinging rebuke, but against the run of play, United stole a half-time lead when Smalling netted his second in stoppage time with another header from Angel di Maria's cross.

Dyche and his players would have been justified in wondering how United had regained the lead having performed so poorly, but it certainly was not down to the home side's greater quality. Good teams ride their luck and take advantage of rare opportunities, but it would stretching credibility to suggest this is a good United side.

They were there for taking and Burnley simply lacked luck on top of their impressive commitment and desire. Such is life at the foot of the table and when Van Persie scored from the penalty spot on 82 minutes, following Arfield's foul on Di Maria, Burnley's misery was complete. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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