MANCHESTER, England — Man United had over 70 percent of the ball, 36 shots and 19 corners (the latter tying a Premier League record) but had to settle for a 0-0 draw vs. Burnley.
1. Mourinho and Herrera off as United are frustrated
Jose Mourinho sat up in the directors box, having been banished at half-time for his protestations, and Ander Herrera trudged off after a soft second yellow card midway through the second half while the score was 0-0.
They were helpless to influence the outcome and the scoreline did not change in their absence; together, their plights summed up Manchester United’s afternoon. This was an excruciatingly frustrating 0-0 draw.
Mourinho’s exit had come after the United camp were incensed just before the break, when referee Mark Clattenburg did not award a penalty as Matteo Darmian went down close to Burnley’s Jon Flanagan inside the box. It looked like Flanagan had touched the United player, but contact was minimal.
Initially, the United manager moved just a few rows back but was then forced to take a position higher up, perching alongside his players who had been excluded from the matchday squad.
United had been hammering away at Burnley when Herrera’s exit followed midway through the second half. It looked like the Spaniard had slipped when he made the challenge, but he still needed to be more careful when already on a yellow card. In short, it just was not United’s day. They hit the post, hit the bar and were denied by an inspired afternoon of goalkeeping from Tom Heaton, a former youth player at the club.
All in all, it was a reminder of the home draw against Stoke City in many ways. Looking at the chances created, United could argue that they should have been out of sight, but chance after chance went begging. United’s attackers let them down again with Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both falling short of their summer billing.
Before the game, Mourinho sprung another surprise with his selection as Jesse Lingard and Darmian came in, with Michael Carrick on the bench and the club saying that Antonio Valencia has a fractured arm. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s absence from the squad continued.
Another major surprise was Juan Mata wearing the captain’s armband. Considering the doubts around his position when Mourinho took charge over the summer, it was uplifting to see the Spaniard lead the side out of the tunnel and perform well, especially in the first half.
United started on the front foot but it was quickly apparent that the finishing touch just was not there. The hosts stepped up a gear in the second half, but the frustration only grew as Mata struck a post with a shot, Ibrahimovic then hit the bar and the Swede also had a volley denied by one of Heaton’s many brilliant saves.
The task became harder when Herrera then saw red and United soon had a second penalty appeal when Darmian went down again. Mourinho’s side failed to make inroads with 10 men — Mata’s removal didn’t help matters. Daley Blind still could have won it but had an effort deflected over and Wayne Rooney curled a wide-open shot over the bar from 18 yards.
It was that kind of afternoon.
2. Ibrahimovic’s profligacy haunts United again
United wasted all their dominance and chances when it was 11 vs. 11, and even when they were down to 10 men. A big factor in that was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s failure to be clinical when his team needed it most. After a promising start to his career, the 35-year-old is fading, not just as a goal-scoring force but also in terms of his all-round influence.
His first-half showing here was not quite as alarming as the display he gave in the first 45 minutes against Manchester City in midweek, but it was still a worrying one. The warning signs were there after 24 seconds when he could only muster a tame effort after an unexpected scoring chance, failing to test the goalkeeper. More disappointment followed as he hoisted over another opening wastefully and struck a one-on-one straight at the goalkeeper after a smart pass by Mata. Ibrahimovic’s frustration quickly seemed evident as the Swede delivered a cynical shove to the back of Ben Mee.
It wasn’t just his finishing either, it was also his inability to take possession. Things didn’t get much better in the second half as he seemed out of luck when a shot struck the bar before being denied by an incredible save from Heaton. From there, his chances dried up. Earlier, there was a feeling that his misses could be costly and it proved the case in the end.
3. Heaton shows United how well he has progressed
Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton, a Manchester United academy product, left the club to the disappointment of former manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The high regard in which the goalkeeper was held was shown by the fact that Ferguson initially gave the goalkeeper the cold shoulder only to have a change of heart, telling him that he would be willing to help him in the future.
Heaton showed exactly why United felt that way about him, when he produced a string of impressive saves to keep out his former club at Old Trafford. This was an accomplished display that illustrated why he is on England’s radar and the visiting fans demonstrated their approval, chanting that he is the country’s “number one.”
Before kickoff, Heaton had already made more saves than any other Premier League goalkeeper this season and it was expected to be another busy afternoon. Yet he didn’t disappoint with his response. Heaton was eased into the game by some weak United finishing, gathering a tame early effort from Ibrahimovic and then another comfortable shot from the otherwise threatening Mata. Later, though, he had to be on his toes and he was, making agile stops to deny Ibrahimovic and Mata again. Heaton’s finest moment of the first half came when he tipped over a Jesse Lingard header.
It seemed as though Heaton was on top form when he went in for the half-time interval, but there was even better to follow as he leapt to stop an Ibrahimovic volley. There were gasps around the ground and it is unlikely that there will be many better single-game goalkeeping performances all season.
Arindam is ESPN FC’s Manchester United correspondent. Follow him @ARejSport