45+3 mins: Fernandes gets booked for a foul on United’s right flank.
45+2 mins: Shaw runs at the Burnley box and is fouled as he reaches it, but the ball rolls to a teammate and the referee allows play to progress for the second or two it takes for nothing much to happen. I thought he could have called play back for the free kick, but he decides against it.
45+1 mins: Into stoppage time we go, and there will be four minutes of it. It starts with a lovely curling, dipping Martial shot which is tipped over by Pope.
43 mins: “I thought we were told that in the cases of foul play, that VAR could only be used to review possible red cards,” says Paul Keane, “so a yellow card is not an option. I’m not saying the yellow card is not the just outcome, but the process of getting there seems to be inconsistent with what we have been told.” VAR can’t deliberately check a booking, but it can go back to see if an offence was committed in the build-up to a key decision – a goal or sending-off – and I suppose a yellow card can be awarded if one is picked up.
39 mins: A United corner. Barnes is marking Bailly, and as the ball is about to be taken he goes down. The first corner is very good, dipping dangerously towards the near post; the retaken corner is not so great. It remains goalless.
38 mins: I think that was a very charitable decision. Pieters was never going to win that header, not where he was standing, and without jumping, but Maguire couldn’t win it without going into him.
GOAL! Or is it? Er, nope!
36 mins: A fabulous Shaw cross, and an excellent header as Maguire outjumps Pieters at the far post and heads in. But the referee thinks he fouled the defender before winning the header, and disallows it!
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34 mins: I’m not sure I’ve seen a this-side-gets-a-red-card-if-that-side-doesn’t-get-a-red-card VAR check before. In the circumstances I have to be a tiny bit disappointed that it somehow ended with neither side getting a red card.
33 mins: And eventually the free kick is taken, curled over a crowded six-yard box and out for a goal kick.
32 mins: Burnley try to take the free kick quickly, before the United defence is set, but the quick pass is to a player who’s offside! Their blushes are saved, though, because the referee wants to book Shaw before play restarts.
32 mins: It’s a free-kick to Burnley! Brady’s yellow card has been rescinded!
31 mins: I think Shaw just catches the ball, before he plants his studs on Gudmundsson’s shin.
28 mins: They’re checking Shaw’s challenge on Gudmundsson. Brady could be sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity if the VAR thinks it’s not a foul. And there’s a chance VAR might think that one’s a red card. Someone’s very possibly going off here, but who?
27 mins: Action at both ends! At one, Gudmundsson seems to win the ball ahead of Shaw and goes down. The home side want a free kick but don’t get one, United break, Mee misjudges and Cavani goes clear. He checks onto his right foot, at which point Brady wipes him out. The referee shows yellow, but VAR will take a second look.
25 mins: Matic intercepts the ball in midfield and finds Martial with an excellent first-time pass. The Frenchman nudges past Lowton and shoots with his left foot, but it curls just wide!
23 mins: The referee calls over Maguire and tells him to tell Cavani to stop winding everyone up. “I understand the viewpoint of Richard Hirst but far worse is when you join one of those tipping games,” writes Malcolm Shuttleworth. “I find myself (as a Man Utd fan) willing teams like Man City or Liverpool to score a late winner, so I can get some points. When it happens, it’s like watching your mother-in-law drive over a cliff in your new car.”
22 mins: Fernandes gives the ball away and Burnley put together a lovely little move to set up Wood for a shot, from just inside the area, that hits the sliding Bailly in the chest.
20 mins: A nice dribble from Rashford, who passes to Fernandes, and from his cross Martial attempts an overhead which looks decent but hits a defender.
17 mins: Shot! Shaw rolls the ball across the edge of the area, and Fernandes’ first-time effort is too close to Pope. Meanwhile, this touches-in-opposition-penalty-area stat is something:
15 mins: Another goal at Molineux, where it’s now Wolves 1-1 Everton, Ruben Neves with the equaliser.
14 mins: Cavani and Mee go for the same high ball. Mee puts out his hand to hold off his rival, which lands on the back of the Uruguayan’s neck. Cavani goes down clutching his face.
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13 mins: The ball drops kindly to Mee, who hammers a shot wildly off target from distance.
10 mins: Burnley have done all the significant attacking in the very early stages, and it seems their plan is to put Wan-Bissaka under maximal pressure with early high balls down their left flank.
7 mins: Gudmundsson’s high ball into the box is knocked down and nearly drops to Barnes, who flattens Maguire in his desperation to reach it and concedes a free kick.
5 mins: “I’m deeply conflicted tonight,” writes Richard Hirst. “As a Fulham supporter I badly need Burnley to lose but as a paid up member of the Anyone But United brigade I can’t support them either. I’m hoping for a 0-0 draw with a mass brawl leading to both clubs having points deducted for failing to control their players. At least that would warm up a cold night!” One of the worst things about football supporting is when it leaves you wanting both sides to lose a game you happen to be watching.
1 min: The game’s first shot comes within the opening 20 seconds, when a long ball from right to left bounces to Brady, who hammers a left-footer high from the edge of the box.
1 min: Peeeeeeep! The whistle blows, Ashley Westwood kicks off, he realises everyone else is on one knee, so he does too and bashfully re-kicks-off a few moments later.
“In case by some strange twist of fate Man Utd are awarded a penalty this evening, is there a narrative/case to be made that the skippy jump of he who will take it constitutes “ungentlemanly conduct” and should be stamped down on like a Monty Python foot?”
I don’t think so, as he doesn’t come to a standstill. United were given 14 penalties last season, twice as many as the fourth most-penaltied team in the division and three ahead of No2, but they’re only joint second in this season’s penalty table with six, four behind Leicester and level with Brighton.
“Big call by Ole to play Maguire IMO,” writes Peter Kingsnorth. “He’s a yellow card away from a one-match suspension. Liverpool would tear a Bailly-Lindelof pairing to shreds. Could have gone with Tuanzabe at left CB today. Decisions, decisions … who’d be a manager, eh?” This is indeed a risk. For what it’s worth, Bruno Fernandes, Fred and Luke Shaw are all two bookings away from a ban (though they would have to get both bookings in the next three games including this one, after which they can get another five bookings before they are banned). Burnley’s most-booked players, Jay Rodriguez and Ashley Westwood, are both also two bookings away from a ban, and they have four more games before the yellow card mini-amnesty kicks in.
Here is photographic evidence that Manchester United’s players have arrived at Turf Moor. Looks like they all have to show photo ID on their phones and have the right QR code before they’re let in.
Four changes for Burnley, who bring in Westwood, Pope, Brownhill and Lowton and take out Cork, Norris, Stephens and Bardsley. United make loads of changes to the team that beat Watford – in come De Gea, Maguire, Shaw, Pogba, Matic, Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Martial and Cavani – but the only changes to the team that started their last Premier League game see Fred and McTominay drop out, and Matic and Cavani come in.
The team sheets have been submitted, and tonight’s key names are these ones:
Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Pieters, Gudmundsson, Brownhill, Westwood, Brady, Wood, Barnes. Subs: Cork, McNeil, Stephens, Rodriguez, Norris, Bardsley, Vydra, Long, Benson.
Man Utd: De Gea, Wan Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw, Pogba, Matic, Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Martial, Cavani. Subs: Mata, Greenwood, Fred, James, Henderson, Alex Telles, van de Beek, Tuanzebe, McTominay.
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Manchester United have won eight and drawn two of their last 10 matches. They might not have spent much of the season looking much like a title-winning team, but that is title-winning form, and they start the evening second in the table, behind Liverpool on goal difference with this game in hand. Anything but defeat and they will sit alone at the top of the league by bedtime, and the last time they led the league as late into a season as this was eight years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson’s title-winning final campaign.
“We need to get points against Burnley before anyone can say you’re top of the table but that’s a position that we have put ourselves in,” says Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “So I would like to think that we go into this game not thinking about where we’ll end up tomorrow night in the table but where we can end up in the table in May. That’s what matters. You accumulate the points throughout the season so if at one point you think ‘Ah, we’ve made it now, we’ve cracked it,’ and you relax, that’s when it’s going to hit you back. So we’re very focused.”
Burnley have won four of their last eight, and are a different prospect to the side that started the season so poorly. “I don’t think anyone’s doubted [United’s] ability for a long while, it’s getting the consistency into the team and winning games,” says Sean Dyche. “They’re showing much stronger signs of that obviously over the last run of games. The main thing is about our performance levels, and I think they’ve got stronger as the season’s gone on. We’re on a good little run ourselves.”
An interesting evening potentially awaits, or as interesting as evenings involving Dyche’s Burnley ever are (apologies, Burnley fans, but I’ve been burned too many times). Let’s share it, shall we?