Manchester United achieved a morale-boosting 3-1 victory against Burnley on the eve of Alex Ferguson’s 80th birthday on Friday (AEDT) to bolster their momentum for a Premier League top-four result.
Scott McTominay put United in front early and an own goal by Ben Mee doubled the lead before Cristiano Ronaldo shamelessly finished to put Ralph Rangnick’s men 3-0 up.
Veteran winger Aaron Lennon set the party mood at Old Trafford towards the end of the first half, giving Sean Dyche’s Burnley hope, but United largely dominated the second period.
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The Red Devils are now four points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, one game short after interim manager Rangnick rocked his side after a disappointing draw at Newcastle.
Rangnick, still undefeated since replacing fired Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, made six changes, shuffled his defense and started Jadon Sancho and Edinson Cavani on offense.
Bruno Fernandes was suspended after taking a fifth yellow card of the league season.
Burnley has suffered a series of postponements as a result of the coronavirus and a snowfield and Covid-19 again disrupted Dyche’s plans at Old Trafford.
Dyche, whose team had not played since December 12, confirmed before the game that Josh Brownhill, Nick Pope, Jay Rodriguez and Kevin Long had all missed after testing positive for the virus.
Both teams got off to a brilliant start to the game, with Burnley’s Chris Wood heading up close and Ronaldo on the side with only the goalie to beat after a good pass from the so-called Luke Shaw.
United opened the scoring in the eighth minute, when Mason Greenwood slashed the ball to the edge of the area, where Ronaldo’s first touch landed on McTominay, who hit a sweet right-footed shot that passed Wayne Hennessey.
The home side extended their lead in the 27th minute ahead of former coach Ferguson, who was in command the last time they won the Premier League, in 2013.
Sancho was released down the left by Shaw and the former Borussia Dortmund player cut in with his right foot before taking a low shot that settled into the corner via a light touch from the Burnley Mee captain.
A superb effort from McTominay was met by an equally impressive save from the flier Hennessey, who flipped the shot off a post only for Ronaldo to react by throwing the fumble into an empty net with the outside of his right boot.
The goal seemed to have secured United’s victory, but their porous defense gave way again when Lennon produced a clinical finish to beat David de Gea after a good run.
The second half started at a calmer pace, but the confident McTominay again tried his hand from range shortly after the hour mark, forcing Hennessey to flip over.
United were largely in control for the remainder of the match, as they finished 2021 on top despite a couple of late scares.
The loss leaves Burnley mired in relegation trouble, third from the bottom of the table with just one Premier League win all season.