Manchester United vs Burnley
Venue: Old Trafford
TV: BT Sport
Referee: Jon Moss
Manchester United host Burnley on Wednesday night as both clubs look to inject some momentum into increasingly inconsistent seasons.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team come into the game off the back of a spirited if ineffectual performance at Anfield with the home fans chants of “we’re gonna win the league” still ringing in their ears. The defeat to Liverpool was made less damaging as Chelsea blew four points late on against Newcastle and Arsenal meaning a win against Burnley will take them just three points behind Frank Lampard’s team with a meeting at Stamford Bridge to follow next month.
Burnley, meanwhile, will view this as a chance to pull away from the drop zone after their excellent win against high flying Leicester. The gap between themselves and the relegation places is four points but with the congestion at the bottom increasing, Burnley will still feel deep in trouble, especially given it looks like it may take at least 40 points to stay up.
Burnley were indebted to the goal-scoring touch of Chris Wood on Saturday who notched his ninth of the season and a penalty save from Nick Pope, who may feel the next four months are a great audition for a Euro 2020 spot given Jordan Pickford’s erratic form. Only the retired Ben Foster has made more saves amongst English goalkeepers this season and Pope is likely to be called upon given the home sides recent good home form. The win against Leicester was sealed by an excellent finish by Ashley Westwood, meaning the underrated midfielder has now either scored or assisted the winner in Burnley’s last three wins.
Sean Dyche comes into the game with only two injuries, one to striker Ashley Barnes out with a hernia and one to Johann Berg Gudmundsson who will likely miss out with a hamstring injury. His main selection issue will be whether to play Jay Rodriguez beside Wood or to play a more compact five man midfield. Dyche’s opposite number has no such luxuries as the injuries mount up, although given Solskjaer and his clubs cavalier attitude to injury, it’s hard to feel any sympathy.
Marcus Rashford is out for up to three months with stress fractures in his back and he joins star midfielder Paul Pogba on the injury list as the Frenchman recovers from ankle surgery. Scott McTominay is out until March with a knee injury and defensive duo Rojo and Tuanzebe are also out. Victor Lindelof should recover from illness whilst Eric Bailly is fit but unlikely to start with the FA Cup at the weekend a more likely return for him.
Solskjaer played a back five against Liverpool but is likely to go to a 4-3-3 against Burnley and will hope his side can carry on excellent home form as they won their last two home games 4-0 and 4-1. A continuation of that run will need better composure on the ball than at Anfield and may see Mason Greenwood return, whose gorgeous left foot is a rare bright spot this season.
As well as criticism over his use of Rashford, Solskjaer will come into the game worried at his job performance given this season sees him at only 1.48 points a game. Mourinho was at 1.53 points a game when sacked last season and David Moyes was at 1.68 when he was sacked. Solskjaer’s only saving grace may be that his boss Ed Woodward is also under pressure and both can feel very lucky at the underwhelming performances of Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal which sees their top-four ambitions still very much alive.
Predicted Starting XIs
Manchester United (4-3-3): De Gea; Wan Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Williams; Fred, Pereira, Mata; Greenwood, Martial, James
Burnley (4-4-2): Pope; Bardsley, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Hendrick, Westwood, Cork, McNeil; Rodriguez, Wood
Score Prediction: Manchester United 1-1 Burnley
Much will depend on the home side’s attitude and early intensity. Burnley have conceded their goals in patches this season, conceding the fourth most goals on one hand but with Nick Pope joint second for clean sheets. This oddity suggests the roof could fall in if the home side get on top early. But with no Rashford it’s hard to see a glut of goals and it may be down to a Greenwood bit of magic rather than any systemic attacking brilliance from Manchester United to get something from this one.