Half-time, 1-0. Manchester United are a goal to the good away at Burnley after Paul Pogba’s ruthless finish, and their opponents are yet to have a shot on goal. Ralf Rangnick’s side should be two or three ahead, and they would be if it weren’t for at least one appalling decision from the officials.
Cue the start of the second half. No doubt shaking after being on the receiving end of a rollocking from a fuming Sean Dyche, Burnley are sure to come flying out the blocks. United, surely, will be prepared for this.
They are by far the better team. Weather that early storm, control the ball and don’t give it away in silly areas – those are the key messages for any team in a similar position. It should be simple enough, and especially so when you are facing off against a team who sit bottom of the Premier League table.
Alas, Burnley are level within two minutes of the restart. In the 120 seconds before Jay Rodriguez fired home, United had plenty of opportunities to get the ball down, find players in space and lower the tempo. Instead, they rushed a number of counter attack attempts, gifted the home side the ball and gave the crowd something to get excited about.
When the ball ended up in the back of David de Gea’s net, it felt inevitable – and we hadn’t even reached the 48th minute.
United’s lapses in control are well documented, of course. Things have improved since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was finally sacked after nearly three years of tactic-less football, but there is a long way to go. If you are a Champions League-chasing team leading against the league’s basement boys, you should not be allowing them a significant chunk of possession and share of chances in the second half.
As usual, as soon as United’s opponents were offered a glimmer of hope, they simply couldn’t wrestle control back. There was no sustained period of pressure, with Burnley looking equally likely to score a winner and Rangnick’s side limited to half chances.
Every time United gave the ball away, allowed a Burnley player to turn in a dangerous position or gave away a free kick within crossing distance of their own penalty box, it riled up the home crowd – and they kept repeating the same crimes. They are seasoned offenders.
Come on, lads – it’s only Burnley.
Once United give up control of proceedings, they seem incapable of winning it back. It’s an issue they urgently need to rectify, because they can’t afford to drop many more points between now and May. They never looked like winning tonight after Burnley equalised.
They are now behind West Ham again (with a game in hand), while Arsenal and Tottenham could overtake them with spare matches of their own. Things are getting harder and harder.
United must learn to control matches better. They give teams far too many opportunities, giving opposing fans the chance to get on their backs and influence proceedings. They are, by far, the worst Premier League team for encouraging the opposition.