Reaction from Manchester United’s win at Burnley.

Manchester United’s first win of the decade came against Burnley at Old Trafford. Their last came against the same opponents at Turf Moor. 

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An awful lot has happened in between, and while United will not be challenging for a title as they were back in 2010, they are at least back on the road to improvement with back-to-back wins that have done more to answer critics than even those two headline-grabbing victories earlier in the month.

The reason for that is because of the circumstances surrounding the games. United’s recovery against Newcastle was swift and spectacular but, as a sign of the changing times at Old Trafford these days, criticism is a game-by-game trend, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to drop, or rest, Paul Pogba, invited many to speculate about that relationship and also the manager’s wisdom when it comes to the quality of his players.

The starting line up included a midfield axis of Fred, Nemanja Matic and Andreas Pereira, a trio hardly likely to inspire, and when you add Ashley Young at full-back, and omit the in-form Mason Greenwood, then you had better be able to get a good result or you will find yourself on the receiving end of some strong and valid criticism.

The counter point to that is if you are prepared to hand out criticism based on some fairly obvious points, you have to be able to give due credit when it goes better than you expect. So while Matic and Pereira may not have long-term futures as United starters, both were impressive tonight, and Solskjaer’s decision to play both was sound and vindicated.

This was not a thoroughly impressive performance by United but it didn’t need to be. It just needed to bring three points. There were promising patches, and some fantastic deliveries from the left hand side, but the game turned on a mistake by a home defender and – again, credit where it’s due for a player often pilloried for making the wrong choice – a very smart pass. Anthony Martial was cool in front of goal at a crucial time.

Victor Lindelof, shaky in recent times, was much better tonight, helping to inspire a feeling of confidence in a defence that was not caught out against a physical opponent that would have fancied its chances.

And in injury time, James showed a similar level of coolness with a much-needed assist for Marcus Rashford, adding a little fortunate gloss to the scoreline.

In the end it was just as routine as the 3-0 victory at the start of the decade which featured a goal from Mame Diouf (remember him?); United fans were almost bored by the nature of them at that time. How times have changed, then; the boring, on this occasion, was most certainly very welcome.

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Referees

Turf Moor was far from the most controversial venue of the day when it comes to VAR decisions but there were a number of strange calls from Mike Dean which really has to bring into question the process of officiating at its core.

VAR was principally brought in to reduce officiating errors and part of that process is to eliminate accusations of bias from referees. How can it be that Mike Dean is allowed to referee United games, 13 and a half years after he was removed from the 2006 FA Cup Final because of where he was born?

There is a large grey area in the VAR processes which renders so much of it redundant, and is dangerously close to ruining the game as a spectacle for fans in the sense that referees are able — they always were, I suppose, but far more visibly now — to influence patterns of games with decisions they have more of a control over. For instance, there is no protocol for the decision where Dean did not give a red card for the foul on Dan James. When a free-kick was incorrectly awarded against Maguire on the edge of the area, there is no protocol for disallowing a goal when there is an increased chance of one being scored. 

These decisions can hugely influence the patterns of games and the pattern when Mike Dean officiates United games is that, when they are noticed, they usually tend to influence against United.

The statement in 2006 after his removal from the final included the following passage : “We have complete faith in Mike Dean’s refereeing ability, integrity and impartiality. However, given the huge interest in all aspects of the FA Cup final, the fact that he is from the Wirral might lead to comment and debate which would place him under undue additional pressure. The decision has been taken with the best interests of Mike Dean and the competition in mind.”

Should this not be taken into consideration in future, too?

Choices

Solskjaer was largely vindicated for his team selection and you might include Brandon Williams’ display in that, although the youngster’s impressive showing would probably have more people saying that it was evidence he should not have been left out recently.

There have been one or two question marks over his temperament and that could naturally lead to feelings that he might not be handling the sudden rise in status as well as one would have hoped. Solskjaer has taken a sensible, long-term approach even though his own future is repeatedly speculated about. He is to be commended for this, even if one might look at recent games and ponder if United’s results might have been better with Williams on the left.

Going forward, then, it will be interesting to see how Solskjaer plays in. In this writer’s opinion Williams ought to be first choice but perhaps a gradual integration is best in the long term. 

 

Player Ratings :

 

De Gea 7

 

Young 6

 

Lindelof 7

 

Maguire 7

 

Williams 8

 

Fred 7

 

Matic 7

 

Pereira 7

 

James 7

 

Rashford 7

 

Martial 7

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