What is it that is said about title-winning teams? What they do, where they do it, and what the weather is like on that particular day of the week?
If it’s true, then it is time to take Manchester United seriously. This was a big result, hard-fought and hard-won against Burnley, the Premier League’s awkward squad. It is a victory that puts them top of the league in January for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson was manager and claimed his final league trophy in 2013.
Now for Liverpool, at Anfield. Yet United will take the competition’s only unbeaten away record to Merseyside and a coach-load of confidence to boot. Just as it looked as if this game might peter out to a goalless draw, they found a way to win. That’s what champions do, and while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was right to say nobody remembers January’s league leaders, this was still a significant statement.
A goalless draw would have given United top spot but it would have been a slender advantage, just a single point. To meet Liverpool ahead by three points is quite emphatic. It can’t just be good fortune. This is a United team that are getting it together. They have good players, too.
Like Paul Pogba, who is finally looking less like the club’s problem child and more like one who can decide moments and matches. He did that beautifully on Tuesday night, crowning a fine performance with the winning goal after 71 minutes. He doesn’t get many these days, now Bruno Fernandes takes penalties, but this was a cracker.
Marcus Rashford, who had done little to this point, crossed from the right and Pogba met it on the volley from outside the area, the ball emerging through a crowd of players, clipping Matt Lowton and appearing to take Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope by surprise.
Could Pope have done better? The trajectory of the ball changed but it was still reasonably straight. Maybe give the benefit doubt to Pogba for the strike. Not only was the connection lovely, the technique to keep it down was pretty special, too. This was the work of the player it was thought United had recruited more than four years ago. The type that wins titles.
It was a deserved victory, too. Burnley came back into it late but barely mustered a shot on target before it became an emergency and United had the best of the chances. In injury time, Anthony Martial was put clear by Edinson Cavani but hit a woeful shot straight at Pope, who actually saved it by putting his knees together. His finishing remains a weakness, whatever the songs say.