Pogba’s goal send Man Utd top of table

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Paul Pogba's goal against Burnley was just his second in the Premier League this season
Paul Pogba's goal against Burnley was just his second in the Premier League this season
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Paul Pogba’s second-half volley was enough to give Manchester United victory at Burnley and send them three points clear at the top of the Premier League.

United dominated a contest in which Burnley failed to register a single shot on target until stoppage time.

But they were struggling to make a breakthrough until Marcus Rashford picked Pogba out with an excellent cross to the edge of the area.

The Frenchman’s connection was perfect, although it took a deflection off Matthew Lowton to ensure the ball went past Nick Pope and into the Burnley net.

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Although Burnley had three decent chances in a frantic ending, United secured the win to head the table after 17 rounds of matches.

It is the first time that has happened this many games into the season since December 2012, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final, title-winning campaign.

New territory for post-Ferguson United

In the seven seasons since Ferguson retired, United have never been higher than second at this stage of the season.

But they were already well adrift of Manchester City during that 2017-18 campaign under Jose Mourinho.

Surprisingly, in points terms, the nearest they have been to the top at this stage was under David Moyes, when they were eighth but only eight points behind the leaders after 17 games.

Edinson Cavani returned for Manchester United after a three-game ban
Edinson Cavani returned for Manchester United after a three-game ban

They made hard work of their ninth win in 11 Premier League games. On his return from a three-match ban, Edinson Cavani wasted two excellent chances and Bruno Fernandes fired a first-half effort straight at Nick Pope.

Anthony Martial was off target with two first-half chances before failing to convert in the final seconds after he had been sent clean through.

None of this matters now though and, while manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was right to say nobody remembers what the table looks like in January, Pogba’s clenched fist as Burnley’s last chance went begging indicated the importance of these three points.

VAR gets in the way

It is not often Solskjaer gets so angry on the touchline that he is reduced to swearing.

But the Norwegian could not help himself after one of those bizarre 10-minute periods that leaves you wondering what has happened to that simple game we fell in love with as kids.

Within the period of one passage of play, Luke Shaw left Johann Gudmundsson on the deck with a strong challenge, which ended with the full-back sliding into the Icelandic midfielder’s leg. Play swiftly moved to the other end, where Cavani was chopped down by Robbie Brady when he seemed to be running through on goal.

Video assistant referee Stuart Atwell looked at both incidents, decided the first was not a red card and the second was, but as they were both part of the same phase of play, told referee Kevin Friend to check the monitor, which he did, before showing Shaw a yellow card.

Manchester United's Harry Maguire has a goal disallowed against Burnley
Manchester United’s Harry Maguire has a goal disallowed against Burnley

The whole process, from the Shaw tackle to the free-kick being taken, took six minutes. And barely had that episode been concluded than Harry Maguire headed home from an acute angle and turned away to celebrate, only to find the effort had been ruled out for the type of foul on Erik Peters that former England forward Peter Crouch claimed on social media would have cancelled out the majority of his 108 league goals had it applied to him.

However, if United felt those decisions had gone against them, they were might have benefited from one as the clock ticked down and Atwell decided Maguire had not handled in a goalmouth melee, when the call could easily have gone the other way.

Battling Burnley need investment

New Burnley owner Alan Pace was absent from what would have been his first Premier League game since his ALK Capital company assumed control of the Clarets last month.

The American was isolating at home after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

He will have been heartened by Burnley’s late flurry as Josh Brownhill, Matej Vydra and James Tarkowski all threatened. But with his team five points above the relegation zone, Mace needs to come good on promises to invest in Sean Dyche’s squad during this month’s transfer window.

While reinforcements would be welcome, the Clarets displayed all the stubborn qualities and discipline that has seen them recently move clear of the bottom three.

If not for the moment of Pogba quality, their gritty approach almost yielded another valuable point after collecting 10 from a possible 12 in the past four games at home before the visit of the Red Devils.

Defeat, just their second in eight league and cup matches, leaves them 16th in the table.