Burnley vs. Manchester United: Winners and Losers from Premier League Clash
Burnley and Manchester United got the third week of Premier League action underway with a 0-0 draw at Turf Moor on Saturday afternoon, leaving Louis van Gaal still searching for his first win as United boss.
The visitors thought they should have been awarded at least one penalty over the course of a tight and hard-fought contest, although beyond that they created few genuine chances from open play over the course of the 90 minutes.
Burnley, in contrast, shut up shop in the final 15 minutes as they secured their first point of the season—giving them and their fans a huge confidence boost heading into their next run of games as they also added to United's ongoing troubles.
Here are a few winners and losers from the early game at Turf Moor.
Winner: Angel Di Maria
Every Manchester United fan was keen to see how Angel di Maria would fare on his debut, and on the whole they will surely have been encouraged by what they saw from their all-time most expensive signing.
Di Maria clearly was not fully fit—he started cramping after 65 minutes and was substituted soon after—but he showed a few flashes of his undoubted class before that.
The Argentine started his debut in United's two-man central midfield alongside Darren Fletcher, with Tom Cleverley not even in the squad (it would seem his future might now lie elsewhere). Di Maria may be perceived as a winger, but he has long played a more central role for his club sides (both Real Madrid and, before that, Benfica), and he looked a comfortable and composed presence in what can be a difficult role to fill.
Di Maria impressed with his physicality and tactical awareness, but he also offered United more of a spark and a drive than we have typically seen in that area in the early part of the season. Defending diligently at all times, he nevertheless was at the heart of pretty much every incisive attacking effort United produced in the first half, either with his direct running or his astute long passes towards Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
He faded in the second half, as is perhaps understandable considering his busy summer and uncertain pre-season, but there was enough in this performance to feel confident Di Maria will improve United given time.
Losers: Man United's Attacking Trio
For the third league game in a row, United's vaunted attacking trio failed to create more than one or two half-chances over the course of the 90 minutes, a woeful return for such a collection of talents.
Robin van Persie missed the opening loss to Swansea but since then he, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata have consistently failed to combine and dovetail in any meaningful way over the last two games. The growing pains of the three-man defence have received all the attention but arguably it is the dysfunction in attack that should be Louis van Gaal's greater long-term worry.
Against Burnley it took 75 minutes for captain Rooney to muster a shot at goal (an off-balance header that was always going wide), while their most dangerous outlet generally seemed to be right wing-back Antonio Valencia.
Late on, when Valencia started getting in dangerous positions down the right, no-one was on hand to get on the end of one of his crosses.
Van Gaal told BT Sport after the game (per The Independent):
We are not giving (away) a lot of chances, today in the first half maybe two and in the second half maybe two.
In the games we played earlier, we didn't give a lot of chances away, but we have to create more chances and today we have created chances to score and that is where we have failed.
Rooney, Van Persie and Mata never managed to string an attacking move together (admittedly, a couple fell apart at the final pass) and that will be of deep concern to Van Gaal. Mata in particular might need to produce something tangible in the next few games if he wants to retain his place in this starting XI.
Winner: Sean Dyche
After losing both of their opening two league games, Sean Dyche was probably growing increasingly concerned about when Burnley were going to grab their first point of the campaign, a key psychological moment. Getting off the mark was always going to be very important, and the longer the Clarets remained rooted on zero points the more morale would start to slip.
Getting that point against Manchester United not only avoided a trip down that slippery slope, but it boosted confidence among players and fans that the side can compete at this level and have no reason to fear anyone.
Equally importantly it may also send a message to the board. With the transfer deadline only a few days away, this result might just help loosen up those purse strings; allowing Dyche to make the handful of signings he has always maintained they need if they are to be competitive for the entirety of the campaign.
Dyche said afterwards (per The Independent):
I thought we were very productive first half, extremely productive against a very good side. Second half we started very brightly and as the game wore on they began to control it better and we just got on the back foot a little bit," he said.
Overall we are happy with a point, we can't be greedy, they're a very good side.
I don't think there's a lack or organisation or energy to the team, it's that quality in the final third that wins you games and we were close again today.
Winner: Scott Arfield
After opening the scoring in Burnley's first game against Chelsea this season, Scottish midfielder Scott Arfield put in another impressive home display as he both frustrated and threatened United over the course of the 90 minutes.
Frequently seen tracking back to prevent United making the most of any openings in the Burnley defence, Arfield was also a regular threat in the final third—including one eye-catching moment that saw him spin inside Tyler Blackett and fire a low shot that was deflected narrowly wide.
Arfield missed out on the Scotland squad when it was announced at the start of this week but, if he keeps performing like this in the Premier League, a call-up from Gordon Strachan should not be far away.
Dean Marney, David Jones and Jason Shackell also deserve mentions for their strong displays.
Loser: Chris Foy
Chris Foy had a decent game overall on Saturday, but it is hard to argue with the claim that Manchester United should have had a penalty late on—when substitute Ashley Barnes appeared to handle Ashley Young's shot.
Foy waved away the protests but the television replays certainly seemed to show contact between Barnes' outstretched hand and the ball, in a way that on another day may well have been interpreted as deliberate.
To lose the game (especially in such a manner) would have been harsh on Burnley and their overall performance but rules are rules. United—and Van Gaal—may feel it was another example of things not quite going your way when you are stuck in a bad run of form.
Winners: Burnley's Ex-United (and Ex-City) Contingent
Burnley's team on Saturday contained a sizeable contingent of players who started their professional careers in the academy system of two of England's biggest clubs, before finding their success elsewhere.
Goalkeeper Tom Heaton and midfielder David Jones both came through Manchester United's youth system before establishing their careers at a lower level, while Kieran Trippier and Ben Mee both enjoyed (or endured) similar experiences at their archrivals Manchester City.
For all four players Saturday's game was probably an experience to savour, and getting a deserved point offered an extra bit of enjoyment and vindication—especially for Heaton and Jones.