It’s Boxing Day at Old Trafford
Seventh place Burnley make the short trip to face second place Manchester United this afternoon and it is not the first time the two clubs have met on Boxing Day.
Today’s will be the fourth occasion the two clubs have met on this date and I can report that we’ve won all of the previous three although we have to go back over half a century to the most recent of them. We were champions of England when we played them away in 1921, winning 1-0 with a Lindsay goal and in the season we next won the league, 1959/60 we won 2-1 at Old Trafford. Jimmy Robson and Ian Lawson scored our goals with Albert Quixall scoring a late consolation for the home team.
Then came our contribution of goals on Boxing Day 1963 when an incredible 66 goals were scored in ten games. We won 6-1 with Andy Lochhead scoring four and Willie Morgan getting the other two; they were his first ever goals. David Herd was the scorer that day.
On the last two occasions we’ve played there we’ve had a former Manchester United defender in our team in front of a former Manchester United goalkeeper. Michael Keane is now with Everton while Tom Heaton continues his recovery from the shoulder injury sustained in the second home game of the season against Crystal Palace. We’ll still have one of their former players in defence though; Phil Bardsley started his career there although played in just eight Premier League games for them before moving on to Sunderland over nine years ago.
He’s looking forward to going back. “It’s a great place,” he told the Lancashire Telegraph. “It’s the best away ground to go to and play and I’ve got some good memories there. I always look forward to going back.”
Things have changed dramatically at Old Trafford since he left, but he said of his time there: “It’s a great education, that’s what it is, an education in the fundamentals of life and football. It was how to speak to people, the importance of respect and the things taught to all the lads who have been through the system there, from under-9s right through the first team.”
Since becoming Burnley manager, Sean Dyche has signed a number of players who have started their careers at Manchester United. When you see the comments from Bardsley it is hardly surprising given that Dyche has that reputation of character being so important.
Bardsley came into the team for the injured Matt Lowton who has been back on the bench for the last two games but which of them will start today.
It’s always difficult at this time of year to second guess the team but there seems little chance of Stephen Ward returning while Chris Wood, who was forced off ten minutes before half time in the Spurs game, could also be ruled out. Sean Dyche confirmed he’d tweaked his knee and it will be a matter of seeing how it settles down. Hopefully there are no further injuries to worry about but Dyche said: “It’s unfortunate that we have injured and suspensions, which isn’t helpful, but that’s all part of the team’s development. We’ve made changes recently for the first time we’ve had to, but I do believe in the squad, although it’s harder when you are changing three or four at a time.”
We could line up: Nick Pope, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Steven Defour, Jack Cork, Scott Arfield, Ashley Barnes. Subs from: Anders Lindegaard, Matt Lowton, Ashley Westwood, Dean Marney, Fredrik Ulvestad, Nahki Wells, Jon Walters, Sam Vokes.
Manchester United go into the game three points clear of third place Chelsea, but what will be hitting them very hard is that they also go into the game 13 points behind leaders Manchester City, the club once described by Sir Alex Ferguson as the noisy neighbours.
United have only lost three times this season but the formidable first half of the season at the blue end of the city has blown everyone away.
The gap increased by another two points on Saturday evening when United could only draw at Leicester after City had hit another four in the afternoon to take their goal tally to 60.
United looked as though they had it won at the King Power. They’d had to come from behind with two goals from Juan Mata (pictured) but conceded a late, stoppage time equaliser which sent manager Jose Mourinho into a rage.
“We didn’t win because we missed incredible chances,” he said. “I would say joke chances. We made a big defensive accumulation of mistakes in an easy match to win. I talked to the players at half time when it was 1-1 that it was an easy match to win.
“The reality is that it is 2-2. Sometimes you make mistakes and are not punished by that. Tonight we were punished by our mistakes. We did everything to win but when you lose big chances. Childish loss of possession, so easy. Childish in their box and childish in our box.”
He also accused his players of a lack of maturity because he cannot stop the game to give a team talk for the last two minutes, pointing the finger at Ashley Young for apparently not being in a different position due to an injury to Chris Smalling.
Smalling could be unavailable today through that injury which has proved to be a groin strain. Fellow defender Eric Bailly is recovering from ankle surgery and is out while all of Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini are rated doubtful.
Their team at Leicester was: David de Gea, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku. Subs: Sergio Romero, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ander Herrera, Marcus Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
If I could choose one away game to win, this would be it. Today I’ll be watching us there at first team level for the 17th time. I have still not seen us win there.
LAST TIME WE WERE THERE
Manchester United had failed to score in either of their two previous league games albeit both had been away and against two of the top six. They’d drawn 0-0 at Liverpool but had been beaten 4-0 by a rampant Chelsea team which saw upset manager Jose Mourinho.
However, they were expected to get goals with Burnley at Old Trafford, this a Burnley team who had conceded three goals in each of the first three away games of the season at Chelsea, Leicester and Southampton.
Michael Keane, back with his first club, was outstanding at the back alongside Manchester City man Ben Mee; Tom Heaton, another former United player, was simply something else in goal with a performance that was up there with some of the best goalkeeping performances I’ve ever seen.
Tom made a series of outstanding saves with one in particular was astonishing. He had some good fortune when they missed a couple of chances but it would have been so wrong for him to have come off with us beaten after that performance.
A first away point of the season and we were up to 13th in the table.
The teams were;
Manchester United: David de Gea, Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard (Wayne Rooney 73), Juan Mata (Marouane Fellaini 73), Marcus Rashford (Memphis Depay 82), Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Subs not used: Sergio Romero, Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young.
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward (Jon Flanagan 44), Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson (George Boyd 85), Jeff Hendrick, Dean Marney, Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes, Andre Gray (Ashley Barnes 60). Subs not used: Paul Robinson, James Tarkowski, Michael Kightly, Patrick Bamford.