EPL

Burnley v Man United: Red Devils aiming to end long absence from Premier League summit

By Sports Desk January 12, 2021

Ordinarily, Burnley v Manchester United wouldn't be the sort of match that receives much attention from those without a vested interest in either team.

A somewhat local encounter it may be, Burnley perhaps aren't – with all due respect – the sort of team that attracts swathes of neutrals.

Nevertheless, Tuesday's fixture at Turf Moor holds genuine significance for United as it provides them with the opportunity to go top of the Premier League.

Granted, it may only be January 12 and we aren't quite at the halfway point of the season, but such an opportunity represents real progress.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men go into the match – which was postponed at the start of the campaign due to United's run to the Europa League semi-finals – level on points with the Liverpool, who they host at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Once the leading power in the Premier League under Alex Ferguson, United have not been at such a level for a while – could this be the start of a sustained resurgence?

A long time coming

In Solskjaer's pre-match news conference, he initially downplayed the importance of going top in January, suggesting such matters were trivial until March or April.

Yet, he also made a point of telling the team that it is time United establish themselves as title challengers again.

It would be generous to suggest they have been worthy of that distinction at any point since Ferguson's retirement in 2013.

Their highest finish during this time was second in 2017-18, though United finished 19 points adrift of a devastating Manchester City side that looked like champions-elect for much of the season as they amassed a record 100 points.

Indeed, United have been top of the table for a grand total of 51 days in the post-Ferguson era – 41 of those were under Jose Mourinho, eight with Louis van Gaal and just two during David Moyes' ill-fated reign.

The last time they finished the day top of the Premier League table was in August 2018, though considering their 2-1 win over Leicester City was the sole game on the very first day of the season and they did not retain their place for 24 hours, one has to ask whether that even counts.

But what most highlights the strides Solskjaer has made is the fact that none of those previous 51 days at the summit were this far into a season.

Of course, Burnley could yet pull off an upset and United may finish the season without ever sitting in top spot – or this could be a watershed moment for them and Solskjaer.

The Fernandes factor

Every team needs its talisman and even the most ardent United supporter will surely admit any title challenge would be impossible without Bruno Fernandes.

The Portugal midfielder's influence since joining United at the end of the January 2020 transfer window has been nothing short of remarkable.

While Liverpool have certainly not been without personnel issues, Fernandes has more than played his part in bridging the gap.

When we look at the Premier League table during Fernandes' time in England, United sit top with 65 points from 30 games, three clear of Liverpool who have played a game extra.

United's 19 wins is a league high and their three defeats is the lowest over the same time period, while only Liverpool (66) have scored more than their 63.

They might already be way out in front without the defensive issues that have intermittently reared their head, though few would accuse the team of lacking character – United have claimed 25 points from losing positions since Fernandes' first game.

'On the road is where I really come alive'

If there's one thing Solskjaer's Man United and The Office character David Brent have in common, it's that they relish life on the road.

United's record away from home over the past year has been in a league of its own, as they are unbeaten in 14 games away from Old Trafford.

It's also away from home where their never-say-die attitude has been most prominent. They seldom see a foregone conclusion when they fall behind, with 20 of their 36 points on the road coming from being at least a goal down. That's double any other team.

If you want the rainbow, you've got to put up with the rain, but thankfully for United they are yet to slip up on their travels since February.

They are averaging 2.6 points per away game, with no other side managing more than 1.7.

Solskjaer won't be counting on a free ride at Turf Moor on Tuesday, but he will surely expect at least the point they need to go top.

Related items

  • Erling Haaland: Just how brilliant has the Borussia Dortmund's star first year been? Erling Haaland: Just how brilliant has the Borussia Dortmund's star first year been?

    Much has changed in the past 12 months but one thing that has stayed the same is the mind-boggling brilliance of Erling Haaland.

    It has been exactly 12 months since the Norway striker made his debut for Borussia Dortmund following a big-money move from Salzburg.

    Haaland came off the bench against Augsburg on that occasion after 56 minutes and scored a hat-trick in a 5-3 win, offering a taste of things to come.

    Here, we have crunched the Opta numbers to highlight just how brilliant Haaland has been.

    Haaland competing with the best

    If you're a football fan, the only way you could have not spotted Haaland's meteoric rise over the last year is if you live under the proverbial rock.

    Indeed, using data across all competitions for the top-five European leagues since his Dortmund debut, only two players can better his tally of 35 goals. 

    Prepare to be shocked here (Narrator: there is zero shock value involved), those players were Robert Lewandowski (49) and Cristiano Ronaldo (40).

    Ciro Immobile, Romelu Lukaku (each 33) and Lionel Messi (29) all trail Haaland, and when we view the numbers through a different lens his past 12 months become even more impressive.

    Both Lewandowski (42) and Ronaldo (40) started more games than Haaland's 29. When looking at goals scored per 90 minutes, the Dortmund's star has 1.18 compared to 1.15 for Lewandowski, and 0.99 for Ronaldo. Surprisingly, Luis Muriel 1.57 heads the way here.

    What is even more startling is the fact Haaland had 102 shots (including blocks) during this period, way down on Messi (253), Ronaldo (235) and Lewandowski (180).

    Indeed, his goals have come from only 58 shots on target. Messi (115), Lewandowski (90) and Ronaldo (85) again head these metrics.

    When looking at shots on target per 90, Haaland (1.96) ranks below Muriel (3.14), Messi (2.53), Kylian Mbappe (2.15), Lewandowski and Ronaldo (each 2.11).

    No one can better Haaland's shot-conversion rate of 34.31 (Lewandowski for comparison is fifth on 27.22), and while Lewandowski (40) and Ronaldo (29) beat the 28 'big chances' he has scored, both have a lower 'big-chance' conversion rate (55.56 and 52.73 to Haaland's 60.87).

    And when it comes to goals/minutes ratio, Haaland's 76.26 is beaten only by Muriel's 55.33. Lewandowski (78.37) and Ronaldo (90.68) are next on the list.

    Bundesliga defences taken to Haal-and back

    May we all take a brief moment to show our thoughts for Bundesliga defences, who have been given a torrid time by Lewandowski over the past year.

    Okay, that's long enough…

    If we crunch similar numbers for goals across all competitions for just Bundesliga strikers, it's not exactly hard to see why Haaland has been such a big star in Germany's top flight.

    While Lewandowski's 49 goals remain a high, Haaland's 35 is still comfortably better than Andre Silva (26) and Wout Weghorst (24).

    The 1.18 goals per 90 minutes is a best among strikers playing in Germany. Lewandowski is of course close behind, but the next best are Lucas Alario (0.86), Andrej Kramaric (0.8) and Silva (0.76).

    Lewandowski (180), Serge Gnabry (112) and Silva (110) have all taken more shots but only Lewandowski's 90 on target beats Haaland's 58. Weghorst (53), Gnabry (52) and Silva (51) are not too far behind.

    Silva (22) and Weghorst (21) have each scored fewer of their 'big chances', while only three players have a higher 'big-chance' conversion among Bundesliga players.

    In terms of goals/minute ratio – Haaland and Lewandowski are the only players below 100. Alario (105.22), Kramaric (112.25) and Silva (117.88) are way off the pace of the superstar duo.

    The main takeaway from all of this is Haaland has been sensational over the past 12 months.

  • Rashford can improve to be England and Man Utd great, says Robson Rashford can improve to be England and Man Utd great, says Robson

    Marcus Rashford still has 5-10 per cent improvement to make as he approaches the prime of his career, according to former Manchester United and England captain Bryan Robson.

    Rashford made it five games without a goal in 2021 as Premier League leaders United played out a goalless draw with champions Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday.

    Nevertheless, the England forward is enjoying a productive season with 14 goals and six assists in all competitions.

    The 23-year-old has only bettered that goal tally once across the course of an entire campaign, with 22 last term bolstered by six conversions from eight Premier League penalties - duties that now lie with Bruno Fernandes.

    He netted one spot kick in the 4-1 Champions League win over Istanbul Basaksehir this time around and his 12 open-play goals in Europe's elite competition and the Premier League came from shots with a cumulative xG value of eight - highlighting some impressive efficiency in front of goal.

    "Marcus is getting to an age where he’s maturing and will come to his prime soon," Robson told Stats Perform News.

    "I think he’s really improved over the last two years. He's worked really hard on his physique and fitness. But I do believe there’s another 5-10 percent in Marcus.

    "When things get easy for him in games he becomes a little bit lazy on the ball and gives it away more than he should.

    "But that’s probably because we know he can create with a great pass, and sometimes when you're that little bit younger you don't have that real strong mentality to go further.

    "I think he can go on to be a great player for Man United and England."

    Although Anthony Martial opened the scoring in the 2-1 New Year's Day victory over Aston Villa, Rashford's fellow forward has found the going tougher in front of goal overall this season.

    The France international has five goals in 22 games, with just two in 14 in the Premier League.

    Robson believes the 25-year-old can sometimes struggle for confidence, while also highlighting his heavy workload as United's 2019-20 schedule ran on until the Europa League semi-final defeat to Sevilla in August.

    "It was a long season for a few of the lads," he said. "It took a few of them quite a time to get going, they had no pre-season after Sevilla loss.

    "I think it affected [Martial]. I don't think he's a totally confident lad.

    "I think he needs encouraging, but I'm sure as the season goes on he just needs a run of games with a couple of goals."

  • Berbatov impressed by focused Pogba: I would like him to stay at Man Utd Berbatov impressed by focused Pogba: I would like him to stay at Man Utd

    Dimitar Berbatov hopes the "soap opera" surrounding Paul Pogba's future is at an end after becoming increasingly influential for Manchester United.

    Pogba's agent Mino Raiola revealed in December - with a crucial Champions League clash with RB Leipzig looming on the horizon - that he expected the Frenchman to leave Old Trafford in 2021, albeit not during the January transfer window.

    The midfielder, who is under contract until 2022, has by no means been a regular starter this season, though his impact on the team has grown considerably in recent weeks.

    His winning goal against Burnley sent Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side top of the Premier League - a position they retained on Sunday thanks to a 0-0 draw away at reigning champions Liverpool.

    Pogba was unable to take a late opportunity at Anfield that could have secured all three points, yet former Red Devil Berbatov has been impressed by what he has seen from a player he knows well.

    "It's been a long time since I've seen him open on the pitch fighting, intercepting, reading the game," Berbatov told Stats Perform News.

    "In the game against Liverpool, again, he continued on that trend for me. He was solid on the pitch again, trying to read and control the game, defending and intercepting.

    "The chance that fell to him was because he was again in the box trying to score, though it didn't happen this time. Next time, it's going to happen.

    "But as I said many times before, I hope that the TV soap opera over him - whether he's going or staying - is going to end, and we're not going to speak about that.

    "I would like him to stay because I knew him back in the day, he was coming to train with us when he was still very young. You could see the talent straight away.

    "If he's concentrated 100 per cent for the team, then he's on a level I think not many players can reach in the way he does."

    United did not manage a shot on target in the first half against Liverpool, the first time they had failed to do so in a Premier League fixture since December 2019.

    However, they posed a far greater attacking threat as the game wore on, Pogba and Bruno Fernandes drawing smart saves out of Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson after the break.

    For Berbatov, the crucial aspect for the visitors was not to be beaten by potential title rivals.

    "United had a good game, a solid game. I think I said before the game to a couple of reporters that for them it was going to be important not to lose," said the Bulgarian, who won the Premier League twice during his time at United.

    "They had good chances to score in the game as well, especially Pogba. That chance was probably the best one in the game, one where I was almost screaming, but it didn't happen.

    "But it was a solid performance, especially in defence, tactically the discipline was there on the pitch. As I said, a couple of chances to score came up, as well.

    "Probably, if you look from the perspective of a neutral, you can say that the draw was okay for both teams."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.