The story before kick off was about Burnley’s last home top flight game being one that ended in relegation at the hands of Manchester United – but their 33 year wait for revenge at Turf Moor could barely have been any sweeter as they comfortably disposed of the Premier League Champions in a humbling and humiliating defeat for the visitors.
United began the first half in composed fashion – Michael Owen, making his first start for the Champions, could have registered his first goal for them after just 2 minutes but couldn’t connect on a great pull back from Evra.
Burnley made a serious exert into United territory just after the quarter hour mark and it paid dividends – record Clarets’ signing Steven Fletcher beat a flimsy offside trap and should have scored, but Ben Foster made a smart stop. The Red Devils couldn’t clear and when a cross was poorly dealt with by Evra, veteran Robbie Blake smashed in an unstoppable volley from 12 yards.
The home side were not exactly in an unfamiliar position, with their cup exploits last season claiming some high profile victims such as Arsenal and Chelsea and for the remainder of the first half they utilised that experience to make life very uncomfortable for United. Aside from a missed Owen header and a couple of ambitious but very wayward Rooney strikes, the visitors offered nothing in the shape of a real goal threat in the opening half.
They were in need of divine intervention – and even when that arrived in the shape of a clumsy challenge on Evra by goalscoring hero Blake to gift United a penalty and an undeserved route into the match right on half time, Michael Carrick fluffed his lines and Burnley keeper Brian Jensen made a good save.
United fans were undoubtedly hoping for a famous Fergie hairdryer at half time but if it came, there was little sign of it in the second half. Antonio Valencia was introduced for the completely ineffectual Anderson to try and input some width, then Berbatov for Owen but neither offered anything that would change the game – one Park effort from 20 yards aside, they rarely even made keeper Jensen break a sweat, and even that was comfortably dealt with.
Burnley will probably not have a more comfortable game in their first ever Premier League season and as a result Sir Alex Ferguson’s public unwavering support of his existing squad will surely be severely tested – a severe lack of mobility and creativity in midfield alongside Michael Owen’s early season determination to prove that his goalscoring instinct has well and truly deserted him to the extent some United fans were even questioning whether he was missing on purpose must have given the lengendary manager food for thought.
That United’s main creative energy came from a 35 year old in the shape of Giggs was in itself a damning verdict on the talented but frustrating Carrick, the non penetrative Park and the perennial question mark hanging over Anderson.
This defeat on its own is, obviously at such an early stage, not the death knell of a title defence, but if the lack of penetration and midfield enforcing that was clear on Sunday and costly tonight continues, it is difficult to see past what is admittedly a knee jerk reaction – the Champions will have severe problems not only retaining their title but may also struggle keeping in the Champions League places.
Ratings : Foster 6, O’Shea 5, Brown 5, Evans 5, Evra 5, Park 4, Carrick 4, Anderson 4 (Valencia 5), *Giggs 6, Rooney 5, Owen 4 (Berbatov 5)