The Big Match

Chance to keep up the pressure

United meet slumping Burnley with strikers aiming to impress ahead of Sanchez's arrival

So history won't repeat itself. It may be a boon to Manchester United in one respect and a blow in another.

They only have to spool back to 2014 to recall the time they gave a debut to a world-class player at Turf Moor.

Argentinian Angel di Maria's bow ended in an anti-climax, a 0-0 draw that set the tone for an underwhelming, unsatisfactory season at Old Trafford.

So perhaps it is just as well Alexis Sanchez will not be eligible to feature: just as well for Burnley.

The Chilean has five goals in six games against them, including an injury-time winner in Arsenal's colours this season.

By way of comparison, United required Jesse Lingard's added-time equaliser to take a point against Sean Dyche's side at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.

Yet their fortunes have improved since then. Now in-form attackers have particular reasons to excel with the possibility that Sanchez could displace them.

Romelu Lukaku's place seems more secure than most, and he has scored in his last two games.

Anthony Martial has struck in his last two starts. Lingard has produced the best displays of his career in recent weeks.

When available, the versatile Sanchez could displace any of them but perhaps, while right wing is not the Chilean's ideal position, Juan Mata may be the most susceptible.

That added incentive to impress may be useful as second-placed United visit a ground that has witnessed fewer English Premier League goals than any other top-flight stadium this season.

Seventh-placed Burnley's league matches have often been tight and tense; only two have contained more than three goals, and one of those was the 2-2 draw with United.

Yet while they have troubled the best on the road, their fortunes have been different at home. Tottenham and Liverpool followed Arsenal in taking three points back from Turf Moor.

Indeed, Burnley have not won since victory over Stoke last month took them fourth, albeit for 24 hours. Instead, United now have the chance to close the gap on Manchester City to nine points, if only for two hours.

So it may not be the best time for the "Ginger Mourinho", as Dyche used to be nicknamed, to face the actual Jose Mourinho.

United have regained form and defensive solidity and recovered players. Antonio Valencia made a scoring comeback against Stoke. Now Ashley Young is available again after suspension.

In contrast, injuries are starting to bite for Burnley. At least if Scott Arfield is fit to return on the left, the mobile menace Ashley Barnes can be restored to the attack.

He scored the opener and tormented United as Burnley took a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford.

Yet that may have been the Clarets' best chance to chalk up just a second win against United since 1968. Even if they do not have to face Sanchez today.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'Chance to keep up the pressure'. Print Edition | Subscribe