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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Two goals for Lukaku, one red card for Rashford, victory and validation for Mourinho

Mourinho diplomatic in response to fans' Woodward message as Manchester United beat Burnley 2-0 despite Pogba penalty miss

Romelu Lukaku rounds Burnley goalkeeper Joe Hart but the Mannchester United striker was unable to add to his two goals at Turf Moor. EPA
Romelu Lukaku rounds Burnley goalkeeper Joe Hart but the Mannchester United striker was unable to add to his two goals at Turf Moor. EPA

Jose Mourinho slumped back in his seat, looking sullen after seeing something else go against him. His summer-long bad mood had been reflected on the pitch, with Marcus Rashford sent off for a petulant, needless butt.

Under other circumstances, it would have been a symbolic picture, of a team that had been losing games then losing their cool. Not on this, however: while Manchester United had snatched controversy from the jaws of comfortable progress, the abiding image was of Mourinho throwing his coat into the crowd, saluting the travelling supporters who had enabled him to win both a game and the PR battle. After consecutive defeats came a restorative triumph, after talk of crisis and the sack, victory and vindication.

“Some of you must be disappointed,” he said, sensing some had turned up at Turf Moor to write his managerial obituary. “It would be much better if we lose.” That was rarely a possibility in a pressure-easing performance.

Mourinho’s sardonic smile returned after the final whistle. It was a sign there was much for him to savour: on the skies and the pitch; in the soundtrack of choruses of his name as Romelu Lukaku powered United past Burnley. Supporters had paid for a plane to fly past Turf Moor, displaying the message “Ed Woodward, specialist in failure.” Mourinho, the serial winner, diplomatically claimed he did not see it. “Ed Woodward won 2-0,” he noted, though United’s executive vice-chairman was not the day’s major victor.

“The fans have the biggest responsibility for the week,” said the Portuguese, arguing their applause for him after Monday’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur set the tone to enable the team to react. With one bond cemented, his players offered a different sort of eloquence.

Lukaku was rampaging and remorseless, helping repay Mourinho’s decision to sign him by scoring twice. He was too powerful and potent for Burnley and only denied a hat-trick by Joe Hart’s fine save and Ben Mee’s brilliant recovery tackle. “He could score more,” said Mourinho. “We should kill the game earlier.”

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The recalled Alexis Sanchez was commitment personified, offering the quality to unlock Burnley and the understanding to combine with Lukaku. United’s sense of purpose was apparent in a hat-trick of early shots Jesse Lingard unleashed. “The performance was very good since the first ball we touched,” added Mourinho.

Reward came with the lead, Lukaku heading in Sanchez’s dinked cross. The Belgian doubled his tally, swivelling to shoot when Lingard’s shot was blocked by Charlie Taylor. “Unlucky,” said Burnley manager Sean Dyche.

Perhaps he was unfortunate to face a typical United side. Two-nil may be the archetypal Mourinho win and it was farewell to the Marcelo Bielsa-esque 3-3-3-1 that backfired against Tottenham. Instead a stereotypically Mourinho 4-3-3 returned, along with Sanchez and the talismanic Marouane Fellaini.

“Phenomenal,” said Mourinho, though another midfielder commanded the attention when Paul Pogba missed a spot kick. The Frenchman’s penalty-taking technique, complete with stuttering run-up, had worked against Leicester City and Brighton & Hove Albion. Not this time, however, with Hart guessing right. A forgiving Mourinho said he could keep spot-kick duties “if he wants”.

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, right, clashes with Burnley's Phillip Bardsley. Rashford was shown a red card for the altercation. EPA
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, right, clashes with Burnley's Phillip Bardsley. Rashford was shown a red card for the altercation. EPA

That penalty was won by Rashford, who was tripped by Aaron Lennon, in a 10-minute cameo that culminated in the first red card of his career, for taking exception to Phil Bardsley, Wayne Rooney’s old sparring partner in kitchen mock-fighting.

“I would say it was naïve,” added Mourinho. “It was a kid and a very experienced man. Bardsley's been in the game for 20 years and Marcus is a naïve boy.” Burnley had a late flurry against 10 men but remain rooted on one point.

“We reboot, restart,” added Dyche. United have demonstrated how.

Updated: September 2, 2018 10:13 PM

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