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Aug 28, 2014

Must-win game for United at Burnley

ESPN FC's Shaka Hislop weighs in on Manchester United's embarrassing 4-0 loss at the hands of MK Dons.

All the disappointment and nerves that 10 months of David Moyes had caused for Manchester United supporters quickly became a distant memory as Louis van Gaal took charge of the preseason. Even under Sir Alex Ferguson, the football played by United had become fairly uninspiring, but Van Gaal had them ripping apart the likes of Real Madrid, Roma and Inter Milan. Even Ashley Young looked good!

Manchester United fans could hardly believe their luck when the fixtures for this season were then announced. Having been handed games against tough opponents at the start of the previous season, something Moyes claimed was fixed by the Premier League, this time around there wasn't a big game until the end of October.

However, the confidence that was flowing through the team during the summer somehow managed to drain away in time for Swansea, something Van Gaal attributed to the players having to struggle to beat Valencia in the last game of the summer. The one-touch passing, decisive attacks and fantastic movement disappeared; in its place, drab football that wouldn't have threatened any side.

Van Gaal's early momentum has stalled but Man United can get a boost with a confident win at Burnley.

Despite the promises from the players that there would be improvement for the Sunderland match, United put in another totally abject performance. Still, one point from two games against average teams falls short of the expectations set by the quality of football in the preseason and Van Gaal's impressive demeanor during news conferences.

Through desperation, more than looking for an argument of any worth, United fans have pointed out that the club also failed to win either of the opening two games in 1992-93, 1998-99 and 2007-08. They won the title in all of these seasons and the Champions League in two of them. Of course, success in Europe is now off the cards and not even the most confident supporter will believe winning the league is a possibility.

The battering dished out by MK Dons has brought up further comparisons with the past, with memories of United's young side getting beaten 3-0 by York City in 1995. That team went on to do all right.

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While none of this is of any real consolation for the current situation, it's still probably worth remembering that the first three games don't have to define a season, which brings United to the third league game of Van Gaal's reign: an away trip to newly promoted Burnley. Three points here is viewed as a must.

The last time United traveled to Turf Moor they were the champions of England and Burnley were anticipating their first game in the top-flight for 33 years. It is likely their fans were merely aiming to avoid humiliation, with them having to go back to 1968 to recall the last time their team beat United.

However, by the end of the afternoon United were 10th in the table after losing 1-0 to the newly promoted side, who went on to get relegated at the end of the season after winning just a seven more games following that victory.

After the game, Ferguson blamed Michael Carrick's penalty miss for the defeat. He also claimed he was "surprised" that Wayne Rooney or Michael Owen hadn't taken it but probably wasn't as shocked as the fans were that the manager hadn't decided who was on penalty taking duty at any point during the summer, following the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo.

United have been complacent against Burnley before; they famously lost 1-0 at Turf Moor in 2009.

Whatever the result on Saturday, it's unlikely that the same accusations of being unprepared could be leveled at Van Gaal. He is meticulous in everything he does but is still only two matches in to his three-month-long project. United may have more disappointing results ahead of them before the new manager's methods, philosophy and tactics are fully embedded and the team starts to reap the benefits on the pitch.

United already have more injuries than any other club in the league, with eight players currently unavailable, meaning that they don't have much of a midfield or defence to speak of. That description could probably still be given when all the players are fully fit though, so shallow is this current squad.

Burnley, meanwhile, will be hoping to repeat the success of 2009 and another win against United. They will certainly fancy their chances of getting something from the game, despite losing their opening two matches of the season, given United's difficulties.

United need a result this weekend though to boost their confidence and keep them within a reasonable distance of the top. The supporters are full of confidence that Van Gaal will fix things at United, a faith that they never really had in Moyes, but finishing in the top four is a must to ensure that one dodgy season doesn't become a decline.

For all the excuses and complaints that fans want to make about the squad, it is worth remembering that it contains so much more quality than Burnley's, so United have little excuse for not getting back to winning ways on Saturday.

Scott Patterson

Scott is a season-ticket holder from Manchester who set up The Republik of Mancunia in 2006. Follow him on Twitter @R_o_M.

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