With Alexis Sanchez’s transfer to Old Trafford seemingly imminent, the Chilean was given an arrival gift from a rather surprising group of individuals on Saturday, as Manchester United’s forwards paved the path and showed exactly why he is needed.
Anthony Martial’s winner in the 54th minute was the first of just two efforts that they managed to get on target throughout the contest. In the first half, especially, United’s forward foursome of Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, and Romelu Lukaku, who were regularly joined by the roaming but very wasteful Paul Pogba, either looked like complete strangers or a couple that were in a tiff.
AS IT HAPPENED: Burnley v Manchester United
READ MORE: Martial keeps up winning run for Man Utd
It was left to Ashley Young to single-handedly create United’s only opening, nutmegging Johann Berg Gudmundsson before then curling a half decent chance past Tim Pope’s far post. Other than that, United never looked threatening and were instead so flat and out of ideas that it was hard to imagine where a goal might come from.
Thankfully, nine minutes into the second half, those fears were put to rest.
Lukaku once again underlined his reputation as a flat-track bully against inferior opposition, muscling Ben Mee off the ball, fending off Steven Defour, before dragging Jack Cork and James Tarkowski out of position and supplying an inch-perfect ball for Anthony Martial. It was a reminder of why Lukaku’s attributes, and why he can be so impactful, something that has been forgotten about over the last few months when the goals haven’t been quite as forthcoming.
Martial’s finish was particularly smart and unstoppable, as he used his eyes to trick Pope into overly-protecting his bottom left corner before ferociously whipping the ball into the top right corner of his goal.
Because of the obvious skill and pace he has at his disposal, Martial can quickly frustrate. But with nine Premier League goals this season, he is now already five ahead of his tally for last season and, with four months left, just two behind the 11 he scored in his first-ever campaign.
But rather than being jolted into taking control of the game, United instead seemed to sit back and allowed Burnley to build a momentum and pressure that was still festering right up until the final whistle.
Even when United were given the opportunity to counter-attack, Paul Pogba selfishly took shots outside of the area instead of releasing better-positioned players on two occasions, while Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard allowed defenders to get back in and quash good chances with their dilly-dallying.
It’s hard to imagine that Sanchez, a man whose ferocious personality and on-the-pitch eruptions provoked the ire of his Arsenal team-mates and manager, would have put up with such timidness in the first half and wastefulness in the second.
But aside from his personality, Sanchez’s constant running, ability to smartly link up play across attacking areas, spot a pass, muscle his way into openings and then finish, is only going to give more space to and make Lukaku, Martial, Pogba, Rashford, Lingard, and Juan Mata better.
Something that, throughout the contest, each of the sextet were in desperate need of at Turf Moor, and will need in droves if they are ever to rival Manchester City.