5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 3-1 Burnley

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By Ashley Turner

1) Return of the injury curse?

Phil Jones was forced off through injury with less than five minutes on the clock, Daley Blind attempted to return from a cut on his eye, but was unable to carry on, and even Robin van Persie was seen limping in the first half too.

With Michael Carrick the only injury absentee beforehand, and with the improved injury record during 2015, things were looking up on that front, creating competition for places and some squad depth to the ranks.

Tonight was difficult anyway, but with two early withdrawals, things were made a lot worse.

Arguably our best striker, Wayne Rooney, seems to be deployed deeper and deeper game by game. After Blind was replaced by Ander Herrera, Rooney was effectively playing as the holding midfielder.

I feel for Jones too. His Manchester United career has been plagued by injuries since his move from Blackburn in 2011, but a successive run of games, where he hasn’t missed a league game for over two months, has allowed him to find his feet and form once more, but this is a huge blow to his development.

The same thing happened at the start of the season, when his immaculate pre-season and start to the campaign allowed him to establish himself and emerge as the leader at the back, only for a hamstring injury on international duty to halt his progress.

Let us hope the injuries to Jones and Blind are nothing serious, and let us hope that this isn’t the start of another torrid time with the treatment room piling up.

2) Smalling: From Hero to Zero to Hero

Chris Smalling became the first player in Premier League history to score a brace as a substitute in the first half. He also scored the second quickest goal of the season from the bench, heading home 22 seconds after replacing Jones, with only Sammy Ameobi after 8 seconds v Spurs surpassing him.

But it wasn’t all good. At fault for Burnley’s equaliser, Smalling allowed Danny Ings a free header to get the Clarets back on level terms. This led to chances galore for the hosts, with the returning Jonny Evans and Smalling himself failing to deal with the rampant trio of Ings, Ashley Barnes and Michael Kightly.

Then, completely against the run of play, Smalling popped up with his second headed goal from another corner, as United somehow went in at the break in the lead rather than behind.

A new Smalling emerged in the second half, as his commanding second half display was very pleasing, winning tackles, making clearances, winning headers, the lot.

Just this week the centre-halve came out and said how he has work to do to regain his place in the United starting line-up, but if can build on his second half showing, and remain a goal threat from corners, he may yet nail down a starting berth in what has been a problem position for United since the departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

Discuss Smalling’s performance against Burnley on SEA’s forumChris Smalling | Match Discussion thread 2014/15.

3) Jones absence a blessing going forward?

Nobody likes to see players get injured, especially your own, and as I have mentioned in my first point, the injury to Jones is a blow. But looking at it from an optimistic point of view, it could be a blessing in disguise.

United’s run of six straight wins and the start of an eleven game unbeaten game earlier in the season saw Smalling and Marcos Rojo line up in the heart of the defence.

Statistically, this combination has been the most successful of a number of many, many partnerships used by Louis van Gaal at the back, be it in a three or four.

But Smalling and Rojo complement each other nicely. They are ball-playing centre-halves, are good in the air, and allow the right-foot left-foot combination that the boss covets so much.

Rojo filled in at left-back tonight due to the suspension to Luke Shaw, but he will primarily be used as a centre-back, and maybe now is the time to restore the effective combination of Smalling and Rojo.

4) Getting the best out of Januzaj and Di Maria

Seeing Adnan Januzaj and Angel Di Maria on the teamsheet is a joy to witness, but when they are utilized in the diamond formation, they fail to impress it seems.

Both players lift fans off their seats when they are running at opposition defences.

Although not quite in the same mould as a traditional United side, both enjoyed more freedom and used their pace to good effect, especially in the second half, showcasing what an asset their pace can be to the side.

Di Maria won the penalty for the third goal, by getting at the Burnley defence, and drawing the foul from Jimmy Arfield.

After the recent saddening incident at his house the other week, he really has let his football do the talking. Giving him the license to do what he does best, and run at the opponent, is exactly why we broke the British transfer record to buy him last summer. Not to mention is superb ball for the second goal.

As for Januzaj, his future was plunged into great doubt with a lack of game time, especially when the January window opened, but he has started four of the last five games, and is beginning to replicate similar form to that which gave him the limelight last season in his breakthrough campaign.

If these two are deployed on the wings on a regular basis, United will become much more exciting to watch, a lot more chances will be created, and more goals will surely be scored.

Discuss Di Maria’s performance against Burnley on SEA’s forum – Ángel Di María | Match Discussion thread 2014/15.

5) Winning ugly

Winning whilst not playing well is a great trait to have, but how long can this last?

We haven’t seen a convincing performance from start to finish since Boxing Day. And we only had maybe two or three more before that. Sooner or later, you get the feeling that somebody will punish us, unless the performances improve.

Our last three league wins have come against the three teams promoted from the Championship. I suppose you can only beat who is in front of you, but we need to up the ante sooner as later.

However, in a positive light, if we are winning games without playing well, and are up to third, then surely when we start playing well, things will be even rosier for us.

Van Gall still doesn’t know his best team or formation, so again it is promising to see us sitting in third as things stand.

There is character, fight and spirit back amongst the players, with their grit and determination pulling his through at times, and so long as they are picking up points, we shouldn’t be too concerned just yet, and the performances may pick up in the mean time anyway.

What are your thoughts? Share in the comments section below.

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