This boxing day Manchester United will welcome high-flying Burnley to Old Trafford as the two sides face each other for the first time in 2017/18 after 19 games.
United are 13 points below their neighbours in the league table at the moment which suggests that barring an almighty collapse even by Manchester City’s standards, there is little United could do to stop the league title heading towards the blue half of the city. But what they could do is not let the gap widen any further, which as it stands is already a record-margin for Christmas. The Red Devils go into this game on the back of a poor draw against Leicester City away from home, as a result of failing to kill the game off even with a numerical advantage in the last 15 minutes.
Manchester United need a strong performance at home, if they were to bounce back and pick up all 3 points against an overachieving Burnley side on Tuesday in a bid to do their part in staying at the forefront of the chasing pack.
Burnley are definitely the most interesting team in the league this season in that some of the statistics associated with the North West club make little sense, when one considers the league position that they are in. Sean Dyche has his modestly assembled yet well-drilled and industrious squad as high as seventh in the league, just two points below Tottenham Hotspur who were one of the strong contenders for the league title after finishing runners-up in the campaign before.
Burnley have scored just 16 goals so far in 19 games—under a goal per game yet with as little as 10 attempts on goal per game on average (15th in the league), the points they accrued is astonishing to say the least. They will make the short trip to Manchester on the back of a bad result against Spurs but they should be high on confidence given their organisation and discipline which has got them this far, to fancy a positive result at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Jose Mourinho has ruled midfielders Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini out of the festive period, while Antonio Valencia has been struggling with a hamstring injury of late. Centre-back Eric Bailly is sidelined after ankle surgery, while full-back Matteo Darmian missed the draw at Leicester with an unspecified injury. Chris Smalling received a knock late at the King Power Stadium meaning he could be sidelined for the Boxing Day visit of Burnley.
Burnley could be without top scorer Chris Wood for their trip to Manchester United after the striker limped off during the first half of Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Tottenham. Defender James Tarkowski serves the second of a three-match ban while Charlie Taylor will continue at left-back if Stephen Ward (knee) remains sidelined. Former Man United midfielder Robbie Brady will also miss out on a return to Old Trafford, nursing a knee injury.
- Manchester United haven’t lost a home league match against Burnley since September 1962 (2-5), winning eight and drawing five since.
- Burnley left Old Trafford with a goalless draw last season despite facing a total of 38 shots, the highest in a single match in 2016/17.
- Man Utd have won 19 of their 23 Premier League Boxing Day matches, giving them the best win percentage of all clubs on this day in the competition (83%).
- United are unbeaten in 16 home league matches on Boxing Day (W14 D2), since a 0-3 defeat against Liverpool in 1978.
Ashley Young – Manchester United
One of the criticisms levelled at players after the dire and somewhat shock result against Leicester City by Mourinho was the ‘lack of maturity’ on display at the King Power Stadium at the weekend. The Portuguese is right in a way but clear-headed thinking and sharp decision-making comes from experience that is not present in abundance in the current attacking setup at Manchester United.
What the 32-year old Ashley Young could bring on Tuesday is exactly that—a sense of direction when things are going wrong and a few dangerous crosses for Lukaku to find the net. A healthy combination of the two should ensure a United win in midweek.
Sam Vokes – Burnley
With top-scorer Chris Wood about to miss the encounter at Old Trafford, there is every chance of Sean Dyche turning towards Welshman Sam Vokes to lead the line on Tuesday. Vokes, with three goals under his belt needs more playing time to prove himself to the manager, and it doesn’t come bigger than Old Trafford to show what he is capable of doing at the biggest of stages.
His ability in the air (won 3.4 duels in the air per game so far) will also come in handy given Man United’s recent leak of goals, particularly from set plays.
Manchester United should have enough to keep a spirited Burnley at arm’s length.
Manchester United 1-0 Burnley