Not even the deployment of Manchester United’s most expensive signing of all time could garner the Premier League giants a first league win at newly-promoted Burnley, as their season-opening swoon wore on with a 0-0 stalemate Saturday afternoon.
Angel Di Maria, the winger signed from Real Madrid for some $100 million on Tuesday, looked worth the outlay as he roamed widely from a central position and forged most of what little danger United produced. Yet not even he could run United through their gears as they looked incapable of ratcheting up pressure or picking apart their opponents yet again.
Newish United manager Louis van Gaal looked on, aghast, as his side once again failed on a number of fronts. Just as in the astounding 4-0 midweek loss to third-tier Milton Keynes Dons in the League Cup – admittedly with a very diluted team – United’s three-man back line looked frightfully fragile, committing turnovers on the ball in their own third and botching simple man coverage.
Further up the field, meanwhile, United struggled once more to take hold of the midfield or to get much service to strikers Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. The latter was a total non-factor in the game while behind him, playmaker Juan Mata had practically no impact either. Burnley, to their credit, played with an unfettered ambition, knowing full well that this United side is ever so vulnerable.
In just the fourth minute, United’s Phil Jones committed silly foul at edge of own box and bundled over Lukas Jutkiewicz. Then, Jonny Evans continued his horror form from the midweek game by giving the ball away – for the first of several times. David De Gea saved Jutkiewicz’s shot well.
Di Maria made his first major contribution after a quarter of an hour when he dispatched van Persie from very deep. Goalkeeper Tom Heaton got big and just nicked the Dutchman’s fine finish for a fine save.
That’s when Burnley grew emboldened. David Jones ripped a shot at De Gea, who only just saved it, and Scott Arfield headed over on a cross from yet another turnover. On the brink of half-time, Kieran Trippier seemed to shove Ashley Young over in Burnley’s box. The United attacker didn’t ask for a penalty though and he wasn’t awarded one either.
The second half was as entertaining as the first, as both sides refused to seize the game. At the hour mark, Di Maria created a chance. The ball eventually fell to van Persie, whose shot was blocked just in front of the line. Then he got a header, which he nodded just over.
Rooney got perhaps United’s finest chance of the day, as he was left unmarked at the far post on a corner, but he headed well wide, a wasted chance symbolizing United’s afternoon. Because luck proved as elusive as form. This was especially true in the 87th minute, when Ashley Barnes clearly handled a Young shot in his own box during a late United offensive. Referee Chris Foy saw no penalty in it though.
Three games into their Premier League season, having faced modest opposition in Swansea City, Sunderland and Burnley, United have just two points. Their tailspin garners speed.