The last Premier League match of the year and Manchester United can only hope that it bodes well for better times in 2022.
Victory over a lively but struggling Burnley at Old Trafford lifted them into sixth place in the Premier League after some turbulent weeks. It’s been 32 years since United entered the new year outside the top six, and the infamous ‘Ta’ra Fergie’ banner appeared here in December 1989.
Last night it was an 80th birthday greeting that fluttered across Stretford End before the kick-off, and Sir Alex Ferguson will have appreciated that from his place in the director’s box as much as a positive display from United who was rewarded with three goals before the break.
Cristiano Ronaldo (left) celebrates Manchester United’s third goal in a 3-1 win over Burnley with Scott McTominay
Ronaldo’s unorthodox tap-in put United 3-0 within just the first 35 minutes of the Premier League clash at Old Trafford
Former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson gives up after an excellent first-half performance of The Red Devils
It was needed after unconvincing performances against Newcastle and Norwich, the bottom two clubs. Burnley take second place in the relegation zone and are now without a win in six games, so no one at United should get carried away.
But at least Vice-Chancellor Ralf Rangnick remains undefeated and United end a difficult year on the line.
When Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes scored in a 2-1 win over Aston Villa here all the way back on New Year’s Day, United were united with Liverpool, and 2021 looked bright.
They were right up front for a while in January, but that lead was quickly overtaken by Manchester City and a distant second place was not as much reason to celebrate as some at Old Trafford might suggest.
Ronaldo had previously missed an excellent chance to open the scoring in the sixth minute when he shot over the crossbar
Ole Gunnar Solskjær lost the Europa League final and then his job, leaving a less than happy camp. We now know that Martial is one of the players who would like to go out and an increasingly frustrated Fernandes was missing here after picking up his fifth booking of the season in Newcastle on Monday. For dissent, of course.
Fernandes was among six changes from a terrible team performance at St James’ Park with Raphael Varane and Marcus Rashford among the other players who dropped out.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche was forced to make two changes after Nick Pope and Jay Rodriguez tested positive for Covid-19, so Wayne Hennessey started his first Premier League goal since June 2020 and Aaron Lennon played ahead.
The Wales goalkeeper was beaten within eight minutes, but not before Burnley had gotten off to a brighter start did Chris Wood send a diving header over from Matt Lowton’s cross.
Cristiano Ronaldo committed a terrible miss at the other end as he put the foot over with only Hennessey to strike after Luke Shaw’s through ball had sent the Portuguese star ready on goal.
Fortunately for United, the excellent Scott McTominay was more clinical moments later when he claimed his first goal of the season.
Mason Greenwood’s effort from the right angle was blocked and he played the ball back to the edge of the box. It was intended for Ronaldo to take a touch, but McTominay saw his chance and curled the ball around Ashley Westwood and past the unseen Hennessey.
Burnley had a hard time on the waterlogged pitch – his trademark technique was nowhere in sight today.
Shaw’s pass encouraged Jadon Sancho to advance on goal and he cut into James Tarkowski before shooting low towards the far corner. It took a nod from Ben Mee heading inside the post, leaving the unfortunate Burnley captain with an own goal against his name.
Ronaldo stood again, screaming in despair as he could not get the ball out of his feet in front of goal from McTominay’s pass, but his moment was on its way.
In a fantastic display of determination, Greenwood’s Sancho forced himself to his feet, after an opponent viciously knocked him down. McTominay tried his luck again with a curling shot that Hennessey touched the post, but it kindly returned for Ronaldo, who was inside and free to score in an empty goal.
A three-goal lead still could not stop fans close to the instructors’ field from launching a rendition of ‘Joel Glazer’s gonna die’ before the break, and Burnley warned they had not given up by scoring their first goal in four games.
Lennon won the ball in a 50-50 challenge with Eric Bailly and ran on Harry Maguire, who looked far from comfortable again here. The former English winger ran into the box and struck a shot past Maguire and beyond David de Gea’s dive to give Dyche’s side hope.
Hennessey was the only reason it did not disappear completely in the first 20 minutes of the second half, keeping Greenwood’s effort and another McTominay curler off the edge of the box.
Bailly had to leave – which may be a concern for Ivory Coast as he was about to catch a flight to the Africa Cup of Nations when he was called up for this match by United – Edinson Cavani needed treatment for what he claimed was a elbow to the head from Mee, and Maguire took a painful blow to the ribs.
But those were the only concerns for United as they closed the match – and the year – comfortably.
EXPERIENCE ALL THE ACTION AS IT SAYS …
Manchester United will be hoping for a return to form when they host Burnley in the last Premier League match of 2021 at Old Trafford.
Ralf Rangnick’s team was heavily criticized after being forced to salvage a draw in the struggling Newcastle United last time and will look for a return to win.
Victory for the Red Devils will bring them over Tottenham Hotspur and into the Premier League’s top six as they aim to keep their bid to reach the top four.
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