McTominay and Ronaldo on goal as Manchester United easily pass Burnley | Premier League

How Manchester United needed this victory. It stems from one of their matches in hand and moves them to 31 points, four behind Arsenal in the last Champions League place, and was as emphatic as any display so far under Ralf Rangnick.

However, this does not mean that everything is tickety-boo with their game. The win came against a Burnley team that, due to four matches postponed due to Covid, last played on December 12, and whose only league win over Brentford came on October 30. Still absent is an overriding structure that could allow United to control a match. Under Rangnick, they remain a side of moments: tonight it was enough to claim the three points, but this lack of continuity should worry their caretaker manager, who afterwards pointed to the shaking without the ball.

But on a night when a giant banner celebrating Sir Alex Ferguson’s 80th birthday on New Year’s Eve was unfolded in Stretford End, Scott McTominay was in dazzling form, scoring a fantastic opening match, creating Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal and performing , as a United midfielder should: as a force of nature. Can he make it week in and out? For that is the challenge for the 25-year-old.

“I struggled this morning to play with my right foot, but I pulled myself through it, I’m fine,” McTominay said. “We all learn and adapt [under the manager]. We play for Man United and we need results. “

Rangnick made six changes from Monday’s awful 1-1 draw at Newcastle – to freshen up the page, he said – while Burnley’s covid meet demanded Josh Brownhill, Nick Pope, Jay Rodriguez and Kevin Long as their latest victims. Sean Dyche was also without the injured Ashley Barnes, Maxwel Cornet and Connor Roberts. This meant a first Premier League appearance since June 2020 for goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and Aaron Lennon broke a three-month stretch without a start.

A banner celebrating Sir Alex Ferguson's 80th birthday is unfolded in Stretford End
A banner celebrating Sir Alex Ferguson’s 80th birthday is being unfolded in Stretford End. Photo: Martin Rickett / PA

Anything less than a home win would cause scrutiny of the Rangnick project, five games later. But what the 63-year-old saw first worried him as United allowed Burnley to run along their left side and as Matthew Lowton crossed from the other flank, they were grateful that Chris Woods header was wild.

Also out of goal was Ronaldo’s shot via a Luke Shaw through ball that saw the forward move over. But Ronaldo became the provider to open the scoring. Mason Greenwood cannoned the ball from a defender before pulling it back to Ronaldo, whose touch was designed to allow him to fly. Instead, McTominay was there to shoot in, to the left of Hennessey, for a first United goal this season.

Joy mixed with relief followed. But the acting was cracked, smelly. What United needed was control, but Burnley were defiant. Dwight McNeil and Johann Gudmundsson drove in from the flanks and made Aaron Wan-Bissaka make vital blocks. Shaw, however, was in resurgent form and a run ended with his shot hitting the side netting.

United quickly scored again. Jadon Sancho swung in a good chance from the left, but the visitors’ defense were able to clear the ball. The hosts had become lush. McTominay scattered defenders in a race that ended with a smart ball for Ronaldo. His silky soft feet made an effort, but the shot was deflected. After 35 minutes, it was 3-0, the excellent McTominay fired a shot against Hennessey, who tipped the ball on to his left post, only for Ronaldo to press in.

This should have been completed. But Harry Maguire proved a responsibility, his passivity allowed Lennon to run through the defense and unload past David de Gea and into the corner.

Dyche could use this as fuel for his interval chat. Burnley came out and tried to feed left-back Charlie Taylor along his corridor, but Wan-Bissaka had his goal. Soon, United’s right-back ran a lure, allowing Greenwood to serve the ball on Ronaldo’s head, though his attempt was disappointing. A fluid sequence that contained yet another Shaw outburst caused Ronaldo to dummy a pass, Cavani helped the ball forward and Greenwood shot. Hennessey rejected the effort.

This round of play continued the pattern of the match. Burnley existed outside of scraps, United did what they were supposed to: dominate an inferior, severely exhausted opponent. Still, their game meandered, De Gea’s 70-yard hack going straight out of play illustrated this.

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Leadership was required from Maguire or one of the de facto captains – Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, McTominay or Shaw – to strengthen the troops and get them moving in high gear again.

Instead, Lennon drove forward again, where Eric Bailly had to lead the ball out to the corner kick. United broke from this, Greenwood forwarded to Sancho who played the ball to Ronaldo. His pass went back to McTominay, who warmed up Hennessey’s fingers again and fired a 20-yard shot that was pushed onto the crossbar.

With the score 3-1, Burnley kept a sniff, but it was dependent on them suddenly developing a killer edge. That should not be the case, even if James Tarkowski had an extra chance for a consolation. While Raphaël Varane replaced the injured Bailly, there was little alarm for a team welcoming the Wolves on Monday. Again, only victory is enough.

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