Jesse Lingard saves Man United in 2-2 Boxing Day draw vs. Burnley
MANCHESTER -- Three points from Man United's dramatic late 2-2 draw vs. Burnley at Old Trafford.
1. Lingard to the rescue for United
Jesse Lingard saved Manchester United from defeat against Burnley with two second-half goals at Old Trafford, but the miserable Christmas for Jose Mourinho & Co. continued with their failure to claim all three points against Sean Dyche's team.
Burnley, who have not won at Old Trafford since 1962, looked set to end that lengthy barren run after 2-0 up before half-time with goals from Ashley Barnes and Steven Defour. But Lingard, a half-time replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, came to the rescue for United by scoring in the 53rd minute and then again in stoppage time. It was ultimately a bad result for United, though, with leaders Manchester City now able to stretch their lead at the top of the table to 15 points if they win at Newcastle on Wednesday.
Having crashed out of the Carabao Cup with a 2-1 loss at Championship outfit Bristol City last Wednesday, United then threw away three points at Leicester on Saturday by conceding a stoppage time equaliser at the King Power Stadium. Only a victory would do against Burnley to lift the mood around Mourinho's team but Burnley proved to be stubborn opponents, showing why they have already won at Chelsea this season and also emerged with draws from Liverpool and Tottenham.
United did create enough chances to win the game, and Mourinho will wonder how he can reignite the firepower that marked his team's impressive start to the season. But with City disappearing over the horizon, United's priority now may be to ensure they hold onto second spot and avoid being dragged into a race for a top-four finish.
2. Mourinho's big call on Zlatan fails to pay off
Mourinho made two big calls involving Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Burnley. The first was to play the retired Sweden international alongside Romelu Lukaku in a two-pronged forward line, his first league start since April. The second was taking him off at half-time.
Neither Ibrahimovic or Lukaku had done enough in the first half to complain about being replaced at the interval, but Mourinho's decision to replace the older man was a sign of where he sees United's future.
Having arrived in a £90 million deal from Everton in the summer, Lukaku is clearly United's future, but it won't be a long-term one if he continues to perform as badly as he did on Boxing Day. Lukaku missed an easy second-half header to equalise and his lack of confidence was obvious with every heavy touch and half-hearted run.
Once again, Lukaku was also culpable for a goal conceded by United from a set-piece, ducking out of the way before Ashley Barnes scored Burnley's second-minute opener.
Ibrahimovic has unquestionably looked rusty since returning to action last month following his knee ligament injury, but the 36-year-old still offers more than Lukaku. He drops deeper, holds up the ball and brings others into play. Lukaku, meanwhile, allows his shoulders to drop and retreats into his shell.
Had Mourinho taken him off instead of Ibrahimovic, it might just have been the warning shot that he needs to shake him out of his miserable run of form.
3. Carrick's absence beginning to tell for United
There is no return date set for Michael Carrick at Manchester United and he may not even appear for the first-team again following his heart procedure earlier this season, but it is on days like this, against dogged opponents such as Burnley, that the midfielder's absence really shows.
The 36-year-old has made just one appearance this season, against Burton in the Carabao Cup, but the reason he was handed a one-year deal by Jose Mourinho last summer was because of his crucial experience. United have the talent in midfield but it is a disjointed unit right now because of Paul Pogba, who is determined to do everything rather than what he is good at, and Mourinho's lack of trust in Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata.
Nemanja Matic continues to make a difference as the man protecting the back four, but Carrick was able to play the Matic role at the same time as offering more going forward.
Carrick's experience also gives him the ability to manage the game on the pitch for Mourinho, something that was desperately lacking in the final stages of Saturday's 2-2 draw at Leicester, when the manager criticised the "childish" mistakes of his players.
Pogba is the one who really suffers without Carrick, though. At times, the £89m midfielder carries United but when things are going badly, he does too much and ends up failing to be the man he should be.
Mourinho will have earmarked Carrick for important roles in tight games such as this, but only time will tell whether we will see him in a United shirt again.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_