Sean Dyche’s Burnley have registered just three points from their last six matches, taking some gloss off an otherwise outstanding campaign, while Jose Mourinho’s men shift their focus back to football after a week of transfer and contractual negotiations.
It has been just three weeks since a late Jesse Lingard finish salvaged a point for United at home to Burnley on Boxing Day, and the Clarets will look to go one better this weekend to attempt to end a six-match winless streak that has seen them lose ground on the top six.
Manchester United have been frustrated by the ongoing Alexis Sanchez transfer saga, which has been prolonged by indecisiveness from United’s Armenian playmaker, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whom Arsenal insist needs to come the other way for a deal to be struck.
The Red Devils will go into the clash on the back of a 3-0 home win over Stoke, where their front men and Paul Pogba put on a masterclass. It was their seventh unbeaten game in the league in succession, not losing since the December derby against Manchester City at Old Trafford.
Burnley have lost their past two home encounters, although they were both against top six sides. Their last home win came against Stoke on 13 December.
On the contrary, United are in impeccable away form, going five unbeaten (4W 1D), in a stretch dating back to early November.
Interestingly, the Clarets have scored just eight goals in 11 home matches this season, but have only conceded eight too, indicating the in-form United attack might have their work cut out for them.
Key Battle – Paul Pogba vs Burnley’s midfield
The Frenchman has made a habit of making the midfield his own this season, but his performances against higher quality opposition still make for questions about his true ability.
While Burnley do not possess the household names that could see them labelled as ‘high quality’, they did win the midfield battle the last time these sides played, and their no-nonsense, efficient central quartet has been key to their success this season.
Pogba was largely ineffective in the encounter, but it should be considered as no more than an off day, with his monstrous performances far more prominent this campaign. If Burnley midfield can nullify the 24-year-old’s impact, they give themselves their best chance of victory, with United’s creativity drastically minimising without his involvement – indicated by the period he missed through injury and suspension.
In fact, United have not lost in the last 35 league matches he has featured in. Too much emphasis cannot be put on quashing Pogba’s involvement, with the Red Devils still holding a plethora of other skilful players who require watchful eyes over them – just not to the same extent as the Frenchman.
Ultimately, Burnley will be sitting behind the ball for a majority of the match, but it has been ruthlessness and a clinical nature which has seen them skyrocket up the table, and they will need both of those elements in abundance come Sunday, when the chances arrive.
Speedster Georges-Kevin Nkoudou is expected to make his first start for the club on the left-wing. The Tottenham loanee played 27 minutes from the bench in last weekend’s loss at Crystal Palace. Tom Heaton, Robbie Brady and Stephen Ward should remain sidelined, and could be joined by Chris Wood and Scott Arfield, who are slim chances to take part.
Burnley Expected XI (4-4-1-1): Pope (GK); Taylor, Mee, Tarkowski, Bardlsey; Nkoudou, Defour, Cork, Gudmundsson; Hendrick; Barnes
Sanchez could take part if he has signed by the time kick-off arrives, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not feature if the Sanchez deal is not concluded. Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic remain a couple of weeks away from a return, but Michael Carrick is nearly back after recovering from his heart issue. The skipper has not played a minute this season. Ashley Young returns to the squad after serving a three-match suspension.
Manchester United Expected XI (4-2-3-1): De Gea (GK); Shaw, Smalling, Jones, Valencia; Matic, Pogba; Martial, Lingard, Mata; Lukaku
It is just the eighth clash between the two sides in the Premier League era, with United victorious in three. Burnley have won just the single clash, in 2009, with the other three encounters drawn.
Burnley shot off to a surprising 2-0 lead at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, but a Jesse Lingard brace pegged them back, ensuring the Red Devils salvaged a point. United have not conceded a goal since this match.
Burnley gave United their sternest test since the derby defeat in November, but their poor form in front of goal and in general cannot be ignored. United will potentially be buoyed with Sanchez’s arrival, and all the signs are pointing towards the second-placed side putting Dyche’s outfit to the sword. Burnley boast one of the best back fours in the competition, but they will have to be on their absolute best to keep the Mancunian attacking threat at bay.
Burnley 0 Manchester United 2