By Simon Evans
BURNLEY, England, - BURNLEY 0 MANCHESTER UNITED 2
Wayne Rooney scored on his return to the Manchester United starting-line up as Jose Mourinho's side enjoyed a 2-0 win at Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday to close in on the top four.
The win moved United (63 points) to within a point of fourth-placed Manchester City ahead of the pair’s derby clash on Thursday and extended United’s unbeaten run in the Premier League to 23 matches.
After a week in which United lost top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Argentine defender Marcos Rojo to serious knee injuries, the return of Rooney to the side and to scoring form was a much need tonic.
Mourinho said was delighted with the way his players responded after their extra-time win against Anderlecht in the Europa League on Thursday.
"They were all phenomenal. Collectively we were very good, very strong, we coped very well with their qualities and we explored some spaces that they could find.
"Eric (Bailly) and Paul (Pogba) were heroes after two hours on Thursday and the other boys brought fresh legs and fresh brains and an important victory," he added.
Rooney, who last started a game on March 4, was given the start for only the second time in 2017 with Mourinho opting to start with in-form 19-year-old Marcus Rashford on the bench.
The 31-year-old England international could have scored as early as the ninth minute when he had a close-range shot blocked by Ben Mee and Burnley keeper Tom Heaton was able to clear up.
Then Rooney was found on the left by Jesse Lingard but his lofted shot sailed just over the bar.
It was Rooney’s French strike partner Anthony Martial who opened the scoring in the 21st minute, breaking decisively from midfield and then finishing in style after swift exchange with Ander Herrera.
The goal will reportedly activate a clause in Martial’s contract where United must pay his former club Monaco around 8.5 million pounds ($10.89 million) when he reaches 25 goals for the club.
Rooney then made it 2-0, with his 251st goal for United, in the 39th minute, reacting well to poke home from close-range after Heaton had uncharacteristically failed to hold on to a low shot from Martial.
Burnley had plenty of possession in the second half but were unable to create any real chances apart from a diagonal shot from substitute Dan Agyei in the final moments.
United, happy to manage the game, had come close to a third in the latter stages when Pogba fired just wide of Heaton’s right-hand post after a strong run from midfield.
The result leaves the Clarets in 15th place, five points above the relegation zone with four games remaining and facing some pressure after Hull City and Swansea recorded wins on Saturday.
"There is still work to be done regardless," said manager Sean Dyche. "You can’t expect to rely on others. We don’t. We know we have four big games coming and we want to take on all four."
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Clare Fallon and Pritha Sarkar)