On 57 minutes Marcus Rashford showed the finest way to return from a World Cup. The No 10 collected inside Manchester United’s half and, after turning the afterburners on, propelled himself at Jordan Beyer along the right. The centre-back kept backpedalling and Rashford kept coming until slick footwork bedazzled the Burnley man and in a flash, Bailey Peacock-Farrell was beaten by a laser of a finish, on the angle, from inside the area.
For Rashford, a star turn for England at Qatar 2022 with three goals, this was a ninth United goal this season – perhaps his finest for the club – and ensured Erik ten Hag’s side are in the quarter-finals. Against Vincent Kompany’s Championship leaders they managed to be dominant and undercooked, the latter characteristic no surprise given their five-week layoff.
Of Rashford’s display, the manager said: “He was great, a constant threat playing on the backline and was dangerous with his dribbling and movement. He runs so much. Eventually you get the benefit.”
The 25-year-old offered his own take: “There is space in front of you and you’re almost waiting for the right time to get a pass off but the gap opened and thankfully it went in.”
Burnley’s manager had declared his men content to run for the ball when out of possession yet this was what they initially made United do as one break illustrated, with Ashley Barnes flicking a Johann Gudmundsson cross wide. When Bruno Fernandes slipped in Alejandro Garnacho the youngster failed to beat an advancing Peacock-Farrell but United were coming to life. Further pressure ensued via a corner volleyed into a crowd of players by the lurking Rashford.
After United’s last action – a 2-1 league win at Fulham – and before a reduced 62,000 capacity due to the ambulance strikes, Ten Hag had sent out five World Cup returnees in Christian Eriksen, Casemiro, Rashford, Tyrell Malacia and Fernandes, though illness ruled out Harry Maguire, who remains a doubt for Tuesday’s league visit of Nottingham Forest.
Perhaps rust was why Garnacho’s touch was clumsy when Anthony Martial poked the ball beyond Burnley’s defence and the winger hit it too far ahead of him as he drove towards Peacock-Farrell. United searched for their best rhythm and it was scintillating when found.
Fernandes received in a central area and hooked the ball towards Aaron Wan-Bissaka whose leap was followed by the sweetest of volleyed crosses from the right, which was smashed home by Eriksen. Ten Hag said: “The players are hungry after the World Cup break and it was great to see this team goal.”
United had a swagger and were in firm ball-hogging mode, sapping the energy of those in blue as they had to keep chasing them. But, now, came a mini-fightback. One counterattack had Barnes feeding Manuel Benson but he could only find Martin Dubravka’s side-netting. The same player did better with an arrowed effort that had the Slovakian flying left to save and when, seconds later, Benson crossed, the keeper missed a regulation punch, the ball ricocheted off Rashford and, as it veered towards goal, Casemiro scrambled clear.
This, too, was what the hapless Dubravka had to do when miscontrolling the Brazilian’s back pass: he managed to stop the ball rolling in but these were not confident contributions. United, perhaps deeming it wiser to operate at the other end, soon had Martial twisting and shooting, the No 9 drawing an acrobatic stop from Peacock-Farrell.
The tie was still in the balance and so when Rashford found Scott McTominay and his attempt missed, here was a chance gone to all but kill off Kompany’s men. Benson then should have equalised after McTominay passed straight to him but he blazed wide.
Now came Rashford’s superb solo goal yet still Burnley refused to fold. Barnes was teed up by Gudmunsson but with Dubravka’s goal begging the striker missed badly – to the delight of the home faithful. Antony, on as a replacement, went close to emulating Rashford when skating through but after cutting inside to his favoured left foot he steered straight at Peacock-Farrell.
Towards the end Brandon Williams, who has the feisty attitude desired by Ten Hag, entered for a first appearance for United since May 2021, a loan spell at Norwich last season and injury in this one the reasons for his long break.
The Dutchman will rate this competition as a definite route to breaking the club’s trophy drought that stretches back to 2017 so progress here was a classic case of the job well done.