Pogba responds to Rangnick
Ralf Rangnick hasn’t been shy about telling Paul Pogba how good he is since taking over as Manchester United manager, but when he handed him a return to the side on Friday he also told him he needed to earn the right to become a regular.
The interim manager made no guarantees that Pogba’s place in midfield would remain his at the business end of the season and there’s a good chance he only kept his place in the team at Turf Moor because Fred tested positive for Covid.
That might give Pogba three successive starts, however, and he built on his promising performance on Friday with a very encouraging performance at Turf Moor.
Pogba was the best midfielder on show in this game and also showed he can offer a similar skillset to Fred. The Brazilian is an excellent presser and while Pogba might not put pressure on in the same way, he won the ball back five times in the first half, the highest tally for any player on the pitch.
He took his goal superbly and produced one excellent flick to Jadon Sancho to set up another promising attack. It was this time a year ago that Pogba was producing his most consistent run of form for United and he seems to have rediscovered those levels, only this time he’s doing in a central midfield role.
Against Burnley he played alongside Scott McTominay in a 4-2-3-1 when United were defending, using his height to help defend long balls, but pushed forward in possession to try and turn it into a 4-3-3.
Rangnick was effusive about just how good Pogba had been in training last month and even held an hour-long conversation with the midfielder at Carrington ahead of his return.
The interim manager even floated the idea of Pogba finding form to impress potential suitors this summer, but as he held three fingers up towards the dugout after his goal there were plenty of United fans happy to surmise that meant a new contract was on the way. If he can maintain this form that could be good news.
United’s test of character
When Jay Rodriguez equalized for Burnley early in the second half at Turf Moor the comparisons with Friday night were hard to get away from.
Just as against Middlesbrough, it had been a dominant first-half display, with the hosts not managing a single shot. United scored through Paul Pogba, had two goals disallowed and missed a couple of other chances.
But once again they were punished for missing opportunities by a team that took one of their first. United failed to respond against Boro in the FA Cup, never again finding the performance level that helped dominate the first hour of the game.
This was a similar test in conditions that were almost perfect for finding out just how much character a team has. The rain poured down relentlessly at Turf Moor, Burnley upped their aggression levels after half-time and United needed to navigate all that to rediscover their poise.
It took them a long time to do that and while they finished the game on the front foot, they created only one chance that really troubled Nick Pope.
Maguire’s defensive composure
For 45 minutes Harry Maguire had won his battle with Burnley’s new 6ft 6ins striker Wout Weghorst, but the United captain probably expected this duel to be fought in the air. It was on the deck where he was beaten.
Weghorst dragged Maguire out of position early in the second half and used his feet to turn the center back, leaving him stranded. The through ball to Jay Rodriguez was excellent and with Raphael Varane moving across to cover his partner, Maguire never managed to get back goalside.
That moment seemed to unsettle Maguire, who is clearly still low on confidence and nowhere near his best. He was booked for hauling down Rodriguez midway through the second half but could easily have been sent off. He looked to have the situation under control but let the ball go beyond him and Rodriguez was through in goal but for Maguire pulling him down.
Just as on Friday night United conceded an equalizer with their backline all over the place. Maguire was left without protection against Boro but the defense was dragged out of position too easily by Burnley for their goal.
Maguire’s form has to be a concern for Rangnick. He was clear in January that he had been dropped for the draw with Aston Villa and the win at Brentford but earned his place from him back when Victor Lindelof had to miss a game after a break-in at his house from him. Rangnick could soon face another big decision at the back.
Sancho finds his feet
The biggest positive for United in their two games since the break has been the form of Sancho. The winger was lively throughout against Middlesbrough, scoring with a deflected shot, hitting the bar with a sublime chip and creating two good second-half chances.
He continued that form at Turf Moor and every time he picked up possession he looked to run at Burnley’s worried defence. When he was on the left he linked up impressively with Luke Shaw and there was one second-half run that saw him isolate James Tarkowski and torment the center back. A quick change of direction left Tarkowski clutching thin air and to rub salt into the wounds he flicked the ball back between his legs.
After a slow start to his United career, Sancho is now beginning to look like the £73million winger United thought they had signed. His dribbling of him was one of his strongest assets of him at Borussia Dortmund and he is beginning to bring that box of tricks out for his new club.
Set-piece is so close
When Varane headed past Nick Pope early on at Turf Moor it looked like United had finally cracked the code when it comes to set-pieces. This wasn’t a goal from a corner, but it was similar enough with a free-kick delivery from Fernandes and an excellent header from the center back.
United were back in position to restart the game when VAR got involved and ruled it out, in almost identical circumstances to the goal Aston Villa had ruled out in the FA Cup third round at Old Trafford last month.
It looked like a pre-planned routine for United, however, with players retreating from offside positions and Varane timing his run perfectly. There was a first-half corner involving Shaw, Sancho and Bruno Fernandes that also looked like a training ground routine and in the second half Cristiano Ronaldo sent a header just over the bar from a good delivery from Shaw.