Manchester United led 1-0 at the interval again, dominated the first-half again, squandered presentable chances again and were left to rue them again.
The drenched away-dayers rocked to the United Calypso in the belief of a breakthrough and their sense of adventure was shared by Ralf Rangnick, who withdrew Scott McTominay for Jesse Lingard as Paul Pogba dropped back to defensive midfield for the denouement. It could still not seek the breakthrough.
It is easy to see why Rangnick appointed a sports psychologist. Whenever United suffer a setback, their mental fragilities are all too visible and they struggled to play with the swagger they oozed in the first-half after conceding in just the 47th minute.
For 45 minutes, 20th-placed Burnley were as harmless as eighth-placed Championship team Boro. Yet United reprieved Aston Villa last month by not scoring a second before the pause when it would have deflated the crowd and Burnley, like Villa, re-emerged transformed, equalized and David de Gea was suddenly in savior setting to repel Wout Weghorst’s fizzing volley.
Rangnick may again feel aggrieved by the officiating, specifically surrounding Raphael Varane’s disallowed goal, although United rendered that moot by scoring legitimately within minutes. At half-time, Pogba was still vexed a linesman adjudged he had fouled Erik Pieters before Josh Brownhill put through his own net.
The problem was United’s finishing again. They did not spurn umpteen opportunities as they did against Middlesbrough but Edinson Cavani somehow gave the ball onto Nick Pope’s knee from point-blank range and the decision-making was often suspect.
Cavani’s selection ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo did not compromise United’s enterprise and, in a month of seven games in 22 games, was a sensible rotation of two players who celebrate birthdays in February. Cavani, born on Valentine’s Day, wilted like a bunch of roses in the Burnley downpour.
When Ronaldo emerged, it was in short sleeves for the most hideous weather and inhospitable opponents he could ever experience back in England’s top flight. He had no impact.
Had Fred not left United’s Carrington training complex within 20 minutes of arriving on Monday after a positive Covid-19 test then Pogba might have sheltered from the rain next to Ronaldo. On this form, Pogba is not just a starter in the United XI but the best player at the club.
Pogba decided the slugfest at Burnley last year when his form was talismanic and Rangnick has already laid down the gauntlet for him to showcase his ‘extraordinary’ talent, even if it is to prompt presidents in Turin, Paris and Madrid to draft up paperwork. Pogba has taken control of United’s midfield malaise and eased it in just a matter of days.
It is the Pogba of the first-half the United supporters will miss and that it lasted a half is part of the problem. He has three months to salvage his United homecoming (there is not a credible incentive to stay) and avoid being tarred with the club’s most unsuccessful spell since the period when they were relegated.
Pogba’s measured goal marked his first in a season that threatened to peak with his hat-trick of assists against Leeds on the opening weekend. One simple but elegant pass for Jadon Sancho inside his own third transformed defense into attack and if Pogba’s teammates were slicker United might have struck again.
It had been 106 days since Pogba’s last Premier League appearance ended with his feckless expulsion against Liverpool. He tends to return from lay-offs so emphatically you wonder why United supporters do not pine for him more when he is absent. That is part of the enigma with Pogba, still without a chant in United’s songbook opus.
The United supporters could be heard bellowing Cavani’s chant in the cricket club pavilion from the side-streets around Turf Moor and they serenaded him loudly inside the ground. They rousingly chorused Anthony Elanga’s chant as the Swede warmed up to emphasize the true representation of United’s following is not racist lowlifes.
For such a rumbustious team, Burnley were reprieved from conceding by the officials twice due to mild contact, in Harry Maguire’s case, his decoy run from an offside position was influential in Raphael Varane nodding in what he thought for a few minutes was his first goal for the club.
Maguire cost United two goals, such was his cumbersome effort to prevent Rodriguez from dueling with David de Gea in a situation that was salvageable. That was the cue for Ronaldo to muddy his studs on the touchline.
Sancho transmitted his cup form to the league and, mercifully for United, looks revitalized since the January break. He had more than vindicated Rangnick’s call to start him on the left over Rashford but, tellingly, it was down that side where Rashford played in Luke Shaw to tee up Pogba.
It is difficult to envisage Rashford, 25 this year, forging a long-term career on the right flank when his previous United managers and the England incumbent are in agreement he is at his best from the left. That was reiterated when he almost fashioned a winner for Varane.
Instead, it ended 1-1 again. “You’re not famous anymore,” was the heckle from the neighboring Burnley denizens.