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Murphy’s Law is the idea that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
It has felt a bit like that for Erik ten Hag recently. Out-run and out-thought by Brighton; Andre Onana chucking one into his own net to give Bayern Munich of all teams a head start in midweek; injuries piling up — Lisandro Martinez the latest to head for the treatment room; no returns for Jadon Sancho or Antony; and Sergio Reguilon heading to Turf Moor sick and pushing through for 79 minutes given he’s United’s only fit left back.
And so, long after the travelling fans had vacated the away end, Ten Hag returned pitchside for a moment of reflection with director of football John Murtough.
Ten Hag and Murtough took the opportunity to reflect, pass on a couple of pats on the back before a handshake was exchanged.
Jonny Evans (pictured above) produced a man of the match display during Man United’s 1-0 victory against Burnley on Saturday
Man United ended a two match losing streak in the Premier League just days after they were beaten by Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday
Bruno Fernandes (c) got the only goal of the match, scoring a stunning volley before the break
The Dutchman, so often stoic on the sideline in contrast to the animation of peers such as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, knew knives were beginning to sharpen in some quarters.
When Bruno Fernandes spectacularly volleyed in this game’s only goal just before half-time Ten Hag could not suppress his feeling of relief, more than anything, as he raced from his bench to unleash a fist-pump.
‘Of course we needed that win,’ he said. ‘We had a tough run of games against good opponents. It wasn’t necessary to lose those games. Today was must-win.’
BURNLEY (4-2-3-1): Trafford 6.5; Roberts 6, Al-Dakhil 6, Beyer 5.5, Taylor 6; Cullen 5.5, Brownhill 6 (Benson 86); Gudmundsson 5 (Tresor 20, 6), Ramsey 6.5 (Berge 73, 5), Koleosho 7 (Bruun Larsen 73, 6); Amdouni 6.5 (Rodriguez 73, 6)
Manager: Vincent Kompany 6.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): Onana 7; Reguilon 6.5 (Varane 79), Evans 8 Amrabat 88), Lindelof 6.5, Dalot 7; Casemiro 6.5, McTominay 5.5; Fernandes 7.5, Mejbri 7, Rashford 6.5; Hojlund 6.
Scorer: Fernandes 45.
Booked: Dalot, Reguilon.
Manager: Erik ten Hag 7.
Referee: Tony Harrington 7.
Attendance not provided.
Heading to Lancashire with their worst start to a league season since 1989 can only be diced up in so many ways, even if there has been a level of mitigation to United’s downturn. Burnley needed to be a turning point —only time will tell if this is more than a false dawn.
‘The team spirit and how they fight together (was impressive),’ Ten Hag added. ‘It was a team attacking with 11 and defending with 11. They supported each other.
‘You have to fight and find a turning point. It shows the dressing room is together, they fight together.’
What Ten Hag has needed badly so far this season has been accountability and leadership, particularly defensively.
A rallying cry in the dressing room after the 3-1 loss to Brighton saw Fernandes and Casemiro as the main speakers, calling on team-mates to band together and push forward as a group. But few inside the changing room can speak with the experience of 35-year-old Jonny Evans.
The three-time Premier League winner returned to United this summer on a free transfer.
He was seen mainly as an experienced mentor who could be called on in case of emergency. When Martinez went down, that call came.
In his first Manchester United start since March 4, 2015, when the Red Devils won 1-0 at Newcastle, Evans ran the show in a man-of-the-match display.
‘This was one of the best days of my life,’ he said.
‘I was more nervous in the pre-season, my first pre-season game, to be honest, playing up in Edinburgh! I didn’t feel any nerves tonight. I actually felt a lot of excitement going into the game.’
Evans thought he had capped off his ‘dream’ night with a goal, nodding in from Sergio Reguilon’s corner midway through the first half, only for VAR to adjudge Rasmus Hojlund was obstructing Burnley goalkeeper James Trafford in an offside position.
United would soon find a groove again, helped by Evans’ constant communication with those alongside and in front of him, and it was he who helped deliver the game’s knockout blow.
Burnley were comfortable backing off the Northern Irishman, almost daring him to play it out from the back. It was, in hindsight, incredibly naive.
Just before half-time Evans picked his head up and clipped a ball over the top of Burnley’s defence for Fernandes to volley in. Think Wayne Rooney to Robin van Persie against Aston Villa in April 2013.
It was the fourth loss of the season for Burnley, with Vincent Kompany’s (pictured above) side sitting second from bottom level on points with Sheffield United and Luton
After the match, Evans (left) admitted that ‘This was one of the best days of my life,’ making his first start for United since 2015
It could have been a fairy tale match for Evans, who appeared to have scored United’s opener but the goal was chalked for offside
United newcomer Rasmus Hojlund (left) had been ruled to be blocking Burnley goalkeeper James Trafford in an offside position and the goal was disallowed
That assist, his first for United since February 2013, was one of Evans’ 60 completed passes from 66 attempted. His calmness and leadership were as valuable as any of the mega transfer fees on the heads of his team-mates.
Even Fernandes deferred to Evans post match, eagerly handing him the man of the match award instead of taking it himself. ‘I think it’s the third of my career,’ Evans laughed.
‘It’s going to be very up and down,’ he added, eager to keep feet on the ground ahead of Tuesday’s Carabao Cup clash with Crystal Palace.
‘You’ve got to be able to deal with setbacks and this club is a fantastic club, we always want to be challenging at the top, so it’s all part and parcel of it.
‘The manager’s got a good thing going here.’
‘Jonny Evans is a red,’ bellowed the away end as he went off just before the end. Each of them knew how big this was and how Manchester United had their own Benjamin Button to thank for breathing life back into their season.