Paul Pogba's stunning volley sees off Burnley and fires Manchester United top of the table
You would probably have got fairly long odds had you placed a bet a year ago that, come January 2021, Manchester United would be top of the Premier League table thanks to a goal and man-of-the-match performance from the wantaway Paul Pogba. But that is precisely where United find themselves: top of the pile, three points above Liverpool and with the chance to extend that lead over the champions at Anfield on Sunday. Hard to believe Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future was still being questioned by some a couple of months back.
December 2012 - Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge - was the last time United were at the summit at this stage of a campaign. They won the title that time around. Could they do it again? There is an awful lot of football still to play, and Sunday will tell us more, but it is nine wins from 11 in the league now and these are the sort of fractious, uncompromising nights that really test a team’s mettle and United embraced that challenge with a stealiness and relish Solskjaer used to see in the Ferguson sides he once represented. A freezing cold Tuesday night at Turf Moor against a dogged, unyielding Burnley was certainly not for the faint of heart.
Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly were outstanding in defence and Nemanja Matic no less impressive in midfield but United’s best player was also their matchwinner. Since his agent, Mino Raiola, publicly declared on Dec 7 that Pogba wanted to quit Old Trafford, the France midfielder has started to play the best football of his United career. Whether he felt under added pressure to do so or whether his talent is now thriving in a team that finally seem to be going places again, Pogba has been largely unrecognisable from the player who would drift maddeningly through games.
This was a dominant, towering display you expect from an £89 million record purchase, although it was probably a good job he did dispatch a volley past Nick Pope as United looked for inspiration because there would have been fury from United fans about the controversial decision to disallow Maguire’s header in the 38th minute had this ended goalless. Burnley, similarly, will have had gripes of their own, not least over whether Luke Shaw should have been sent off for a first-half foul on Johann Berg Gudmundsson. There is a strong argument that referee Kevin Friend got both decisions wrong - Maguire’s goal should have stood and Shaw should have walked - but United deserved their win.
At this stage last season, United trailed Liverpool by 24 points. From also-rans to potential title contenders in the space of 12 months, it has been some turnaround but if they were going to go to Anfield with a spring in their step it was clear they were going to have to dig in here. Tackles flew in, tempers flared and Friend seemed to get it from all sides, not least Maguire and Edinson Cavani, who at one point had Pogba translating for him as the official told the Uruguayan - on what felt like a hair trigger after returning to the side following his three-match ban - to calm down.
Burnley went for aerial bombardment. Champions stand up in these moments. Could United? Sean Dyche had obviously done his homework and realised Aaron Wan-Bissaka does not always defend his back post too well against the high balls Burnley were eager to pump in his direction. After a stodgy start, though, United grew in stature. Matic and Pogba offered cool heads while others were losing theirs and Maguire and Bailly were formidable at the back, even if Cavani and Anthony Martial had a frustrating night of it in front of goal and made life harder for their team than it should have been with some errant finishing.
Still, it was little wonder Friend copped an earful from Maguire at the interval after being denied what Solskjaer felt was a “perfectly good goal”. Shaw stood up a cross that was crying out to be met but to do so Maguire was going to need some elevation and, as he powered his way over Erik Pieters to thunder a superb header into the far top corner, there was a small nudge in the Burnley defender’s back. Friend deemed that sufficient enough to penalise the United man but where was his momentum supposed to take him?
Equally, Burnley may have been aggrieved had the goal stood, given that it was fashioned by a man who might have been lucky to still be on. Shaw had appeared to get both ball and man when he clattered into a challenge on Gudmundsson before United raced away on the break and Cavani was cleaned out by Robbie Brady. Before the Var could establish if Brady warranted a red card and not the yellow Friend brandished, they first had to review Shaw’s challenge. Friend was sent to the pitchside monitor and pulled out a yellow as Burnley were awarded a free-kick. United’s left back was reprieved.
It was a feisty game. Bailly made a fine block to deny Chris Wood and Nick Pope tipped away a shot from Anthony Martial but as the second half wore on, Burnley were being pushed deeper and deeper. Still, United needed some inspiration, and it was little surprise it came from Pogba, who had bestrode the midfield with an intelligence and work rate that had Solskjaer cooing. He did the simple and ugly things well and when a bit of quality was required he injected that, too.
Both were in evidence for the goal - Pogba winning a header under pressure before scampering towards the edge of the penalty area where Marcus Rashford picked him out with a fine pass that the Frenchman met with a sweet volley. A deflection off Matt Lowton helped it past Pope but it was no less than Pogba, or United, deserved.
That game had a bit of everything. Man United are top. Couple of late injuries but they'll be well pleased by that win I reckon.
No particular cuddling at the end that I could see. Tell you what pals I think that'll do it from me. Exciting, hectic stuff. I'll put the manager quotes in below if anything noteworthy is said, other than that we'll get to the match report.
Pogba: "It's not that I feel it was a goal. It was a goal." He says of the Maguire header in the first half. "There were some strange decisions today. But I am not the boss on the pitch, the referee is. I am always happy when I win. But there is a long way to go."
Late, late chance for Burnley but no dice. Long ball into the United box, McTominay heads it to Vydra - but he fires over. Ooooh, good chance that. Dyche spins away in frustration.
These last two minutes are taking the gloss off for United: now Matic has gone down clutching his groin muscle.
Such a delightful bit of play from Martial. United break and there's a looping, bouncing ball to get on. But he just ducks his head onto it and it loops over to Cavani! So cute. Cavani lobs it back over to Martial who has a chance to wrap it up here. He almost has too much time... he hits it at the keeper.
Ooh this is bad for United though - Martial has pulled up. Hamstring? He limps off the pitch. Will he be okay for Liverpool?
Exciting end to this! Burnley trying everything, they play it into the box, United desperately try to hack clear, Tarkowski has a chance of a strike but cannot make a proper contact. Both teams are all in. Mee and Shaw both bravely go for a header.... crunching clash of heads. Ooof.
Both lads are okay after a minute or two.
They are checking for a penalty for handball against Harry Maguire as United defend a corner. He jumped with Mee, no real chance of getting the ball, and the ball did indeed seem to hit him on the meathook. But the Ref said no handball, and VAR upholds that. I'd say he's a bit lucky there, albeit that his chalked off goal in the first half was unlucky.
Close! This is good from Burnley. Maguire has been done there in the LCB role, Vidra surges onto the ball and hits the side netting. Bailly intervention.
Burnley get a chance to launch one into the area. United hold firm.
Brownhill with a powerful run and a shot wide.
Looks like United's shirt is inspired by dazzle ships. "The intention of dazzle is not to conceal but to make it difficult to estimate a target's range, speed, and heading." pic.twitter.com/ifHQZjVpN7— John Nicholson (@JohnnyTheNic) January 12, 2021
Fernandes and Pogba link up. Pogba really playing like a top class player at the moment. Lovely little pass through. Marital gathers and only a superb tackled from Tarkowski saves the day.
The great man Rashford comes off. Greenwood on.
United happy not to attack all that much. Burnley not able to get the ball.
United, barring a fiasco, are going into the match vs Liverpool on Sunday as league leaders.
Burnley now obviously have to score but look a bit punch drunk, and maybe not quite sure what to do next.
Burnley have yet to have a shot on target.
Pogba and Bailly do an elaborate handshake celebration. I mean, they're basically just holding hands.
Cross from Rashford. He stands the ball up for Pogba on the edge of the box. Lovely volley from Pogba. Signifciant deflection as Lowton sticks out his leg, gives Pope nay chance. Everyone has a cuddle.
Martial tackles Pogba, bringing a United move to an end.
It's all United. Attack vs Defence.
Played in. Cavani picks it up, beats his man with good composure and tries to pop it far corner, top shelf. Wide.
Burnley are leggy, pressed back as I say, and playing more and more narrow.
United have a corner.
The aforementioned Bruno too fleet of foot for Westwood, who trips him.
Burnley have been forced back, and are digging in. They look tired.
Fernandes at the heart of everything right now. Has another pop at goal. But that's easy enough again for the keeper.
Fernandes popping up everywhere, cutting in from the flank and firing straight at the keeper.
United, still, have gone up a level at the start of the half. Sky graphic: United starting XI cost 460 million. Burnley: 43.
Rashford down the right, and has a chance to pick out Cavani but instead seems caught in two minds, and hits it at the keeper.
"She's turned the weans against us" pic.twitter.com/oQ362WjxRn— Kristian (@vonstrenginho) January 12, 2021
De Gea sends Pogba driving forward with a long throw. He carries the ball, slips it to Fernandes, and he in turn drives forward and crosses. Cavani fluffs the chance.
United look like they intend to win this with skill not trying to match Burnley thump for thump. Lovely bit of play from Cavani now as he spreads the game out wide.
We are back under way.
Nice shot on Sky there of Ole and Sean walking off together having a chat. Sean doing that weird "talking into his hand" thing that football people do. I thought they only did that when there was a deafening crowd? I wouldn't know. My work rarely takes place to a soundscape of thunderous applause. I know. It is an outrage, you are right.
completely exhausted after that first half, so goodness knows how the players feel. It was constant aerial bombing, arguing, VAR debates and the rest. There were bits of football too. Enjoyable stuff in its own way.
Absolutely intense and slightly deranged first half. Aerial warfare and VAR, a disallowed goal for Spamhead, both sides could have had a man off but both got off on a technicality.
Bruno F booked "for whinging" in the words of Sky's Gary Neville.
Shaw with a good run, tries to smuggle it through to Rashford. Burnley do just enough.
We will have four minutes added.
Martial allowed time and space to measure out his shot and lets fly with a really good hit. Handy save that.
Instead United settle for a corner and Bailly has gone down off the ball. That comes to nothing.
On the physical battle faced by United, Neville says: "We knew this game would be a struggle and for 40 minutes it has been."
God it is all happening. United reckon they have a penalty but the ball has in fact hit Mee in the... in the face.
Disallowed goal.Really good bit of play from United, they are keeping it well and probing. Nice ball chipped in by Fernandes and Spamhead rises majestically at the back stick to batter in a header. He's barged Peters in the process of getting the header. Feel for Harry Maguire there. Good honest headed goal I'd call that. Yeah he maybe made a bit of contact but that's a goal.
Oh for god's sake
That all took plenty of time to sort out. From 4D jurisprudence we return to the more pedestrian matter of football.
It all ends with a Burnley freekick drifting out.
Well who knows frankly. Ref's taken back the yellow card he gave Brady, because the game had already been ceased by that Shaw foul, if you know what I mean. Shaw does indeed get booked. He moans.
Neville: "I think both managers should be happy, either of them could have had a players sent off there. The Burnley players were incensed by that Shaw challenge."
focusing in on the Shaw challenge. Neville: "he could be in trouble Luke Shaw. He puts that leg out. He's followed through on him" Ref Kevin Friend reviewing that on the monitor.
Luke Shaw goes in with a dangerous tackle on Gudmundsson. But they play on.
Cavani breaks! Robbie Brady hauls him down. Proper chops him down there. Both sides are angry with the other. The Burnley players didn't like that foul by Shaw.
And the United players in their turn want a red card for that chop on Cavani. Maguire leading the protests.
VAR is working double time on both incidents.
Incidentally, you could throw a blanket over the 20 outfield players. They're all getting involved in a mass debate.
Matic opens the game up with a lovely slide rule of a pass. Martial controls, he is one-on-one with Lowton. He half beats the man but sends his shot wide.
Ref wants a word with Cavani. Not sure what. Cavani seems angry. He's putting himself about. Maguire and Pogba come over as a sort of two-man legal defence team.
Poor play from United. Fernandes gives it away, Burnley turn it over an launch a neat attack. Bailly misses his challenge, Wood hits it and to be fair to Bailly he has recovered well to block. But the block sends the ball ballooning, De Gea just stands and watches. Lands safe.
Oooh - Martial! Overhead kick. Does not quite get hold of it.
Absolute howitzer here from Burnley here, De Gea steadies himself like a rugby full back, gathers it and calls for the mark.
Classy move from United, nice movement, and Fernandes takes up an excellent position. Hits the target but a regulation save.
United are getting a foothold in the game, though, by passing the ball around along the floor. Ooooh. Fancy.
Robbie Brady's had a decent effort from distance. It has been all Burnley so far.
Wan-Bissaka is under bombardment in that left back berth.
Bailly and Maguire standing up manfully so far.
Burnley with a series of aerial diagonal bombs. United's defenders are gonna need a good soak in the old Matey bubble bath later.
That's a really good ball in from Burnley, Maguire does well under pressure. Gudmundson and Lowton making good starts to the match.
United, in white strips with black diagonals, playing the ball around at the back.
Burnley kick us off.
It's Burnley vs Man United.
Players are out on the pitch at Wolves. James and Davies have a little cuddle.
Fist bumps for Nuno and Carlo. Nuno has taken his face mask off again.
You do sort of wonder why they don't have a mask in such a confined space. Various hangers on and camp followers are there too, in masks.
Nuno did his pre match interview to Sky Sports with a mask. Not sure I have seen that before.
How's it going? Ole looks cheery and relaxed. He says that his players don't see going top as an incentive.
"Good to have Edinson back. He has been out for three games. A chance for him to sample proper English football."
Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Pieters, Gudmundsson, Brownhill, Westwood, Brady, Wood, Barnes. Subs: Cork, McNeil, Stephens, Rodriguez, Norris, Bardsley, Vydra, Long, Benson.
Man Utd: de Gea, Wan Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw, Pogba, Matic, Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Martial, Cavani. Subs: Mata, Greenwood, Fred, James, Henderson, Alex Telles, van de Beek, Tuanzebe, McTominay.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)
And welcome to our live blog of Burnley vs Manchester United, a fixture that kicks off at Turf Moor at 8.15pm. It is on Sky Sports Main Event but you can follow it right here. Things have been looking up for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but he has warned his guys not to get carried away by the fact that they can go top of the League with a win here. And rightly so, you have to say. There is a hell of a long way to go and United still have significant weaknesses.
Still, I quite like Ole even though he was the most teacher's pet of all of them, bar of course Gurreh, during the Fergie years. Still, here are his sensible words. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warns Manchester United to stay humble
You get the strong impression that Sean Dyche would have less than zero tolerance for a player or group of players getting ideas above their station. He continues to turn out results at one of the least well-resourced clubs in the Premier League and, even though they might be struggling a bit more than in recent seasons, I am pretty sure that there are at least three teams are worse than Burnley in the Premier League, and while I am sure they wouldn't mind being a bit higher than their current mark of 16th, I am sure they'd take it if the season ended tomorrow. Which, sadly, is not beyond the R of P.
Enjoyed this story about Burnley being at the front of artificial intelligence in football. Poor Sean Dyche. Just because he looks, and (let's be honest) dresses like he's the doorman of a nitespot called Tabuu, people assume that's he's not a progressive.