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Since Ralf Rangnick’s appointment as Manchester United manager, his side have taken seven points from a possible nine in the Premier League. That suggests the German has made an instant impact since replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the helm, but the performances have not been as good as the results suggest. United struggled to create clear-cut chances in their 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace, although they did at least look more secure defensively against Patrick Vieira’s men.
The same could not be said for the subsequent 1-0 triumph over Norwich, nor the 1-1 draw with Newcastle United on Monday. United were lethargic and listless at St James’ Park last time out, and a more clinical opponent that Newcastle would have taken more of the opportunities they fashioned. There were few positives to take from United’s display, and the lack of intensity both with and without the ball was a particular cause for concern.
The Red Devils have ground to make up in the race for fourth, and they cannot afford to drop too many points against the likes of Burnley if they are to secure Champions League qualification. United do not play another big-six side until the Manchester derby in early March, so the next couple of months could see them climb into the top four – but only if the performances get better.
There is no shortage of talent within the United ranks, but Rangnick must now mold that into a coherent unit. He has the expertise to be able to do so, but the worry for United is that his ideas about heavy pressing, high-energy soccer might not align with the skill sets of the players at his disposal.
December is usually the busiest month in the soccer calendar in England, but it has not been that way for Burnley thus far. The Clarets have had no fewer than three matches postponed this month due to Covid outbreaks in their camps of their opponents. They also had a game called off because of snow towards the end of November, which has left the Clarets with as many as four games in hand on some of their relegation rivals.
Burnley are used to being in and around the relegation zone. Sean Dyche is the longest-serving manager in the Premier League, and the squad at his disposal has not changed much for three or four years. Burnley are an experienced group and no one at Turf Moor will be panicking about the club’s present position in the bottom three.
Even so, this could be a tough season for Burnley. They will have several double gameweeks in 2022, and a relatively thin squad could be stretched to the maximum. Dyche’s side have still won just one game this season, and while six defeats from 15 matches is not a dreadful record – Arsenal have lost the same amount of games – the Clarets will need to start turning draws into wins if they are to survive for another year.
Dyche is an excellent manager and he has asserted on several occasions that his team have not always got the results their performances deserve this term. If the 50-year-old keeps Burnley up again, it will be one of his best achievements yet.
Manchester United have only won one of their last five meetings with Burnley at Old Trafford. In a 0-0 draw in 2016 and a 2-0 defeat in January 2020, the Red Devils struggled to break down obdurate opponents. But that has not been the whole story. There were 2-2 draws in 2017 and 2019, so it has not simply been a case of Burnley sitting back and hoping for the best.
Whereas United were last in action three days ago, the Clarets have not played for two and a half weeks. Dyche has had ample time to prepare for this match, and his players should be fresh having had Boxing Day off. Burnley are invariably disciplined, diligent and well-drilled, while an attacking style based on crosses into the box can unsettle even the stoutest of defenses – which United’s has certainly not been for much of the campaign.
Rangnick has plenty of quality at his disposal, and it could be the case that he turns to his well-stocked bench to win the game in the second half. United’s superior quality should ultimately tell, but Burnley are awkward opponents and they will not lie down easily. Back a home win and both teams to score.
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|Manchester United vs Burnley Information|
|Teams||Manchester United vs Burnley|
|Location||Old Trafford, Manchester England|
|Time||Thursday, 30 December 2021, 3.15 PM EST|
|How to watch||NBC Sports|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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