If it is a time of year for Christians to celebrate, Christian Eriksen has had little to savour this month. He must have imagined his first game of December would be in the last 16 of the World Cup for Denmark, not the last 16 of the Carabao Cup for Manchester United. But, after the anti-climax of underachievement on the global stage, he at least set United on the path to a less prestigious trophy. He may have dreamt of facing Argentina; instead he struck against Burnley.
A scorer of three goals in Qatar, Marcus Rashford maintained his fine form, capping a 50-yard solo run with a strike to see off the Clarets and life after Cristiano Ronaldo began with a comfortable win. With three of the supposed big six already out and another set to follow on Thursday, United have reasons to believe their debut season under Erik ten Hag can bring glory.
They eased back into action and if others will be searching for a blend between those who have had five weeks off, those who were unused, underused or unsuccessful in the World Cup and those who ventured deep into the tournament, Ten Hag found a formula. He started with five of his World Cup contingent, including three quarter-finalists: Rashford scored, Bruno Fernandes starred with some incisive passing and Casemiro strolled through the game, slotting in at centre-back in the absence of the ill Harry Maguire. He conjured a goal-line clearance after the error-prone, erratic Martin Dubravka came for, and missed, a cross.
Eriksen rejoined United earlier than anticipated, after Denmark’s apparent dark horses fell at the first fence, scoring a lone goal and getting a solitary point, and this was his first taste of victory since he scored in November’s triumph over Fulham. He has now struck in consecutive club games, albeit separated by a winter World Cup.
He had an unlikely supplier. Aaron Wan-Bissaka had only played four minutes this season, such was his fall from grace and Ten Hag’s preference for Diogo Dalot. He has become defined by what he cannot do, in attack, so a first assist in 19 months was an encouraging contribution on his belated first start under the Dutchman. The right-back reached both the byline and Fernandes’ diagonal pass to slide in a low cross that gave Eriksen a tap-in.
The second was more spectacular, Rashford returning from Qatar with confidence, running from his own half and twisting past the unfortunate Jordan Beyer before drilling his shot past Aro Muric. The goalkeeper had made a fine save from Anthony Martial, the man occupying Ronaldo’s old position in the middle of the attack, and formed part of Burnley’s large Manchester City contingent. Vincent Kompany had won 6-1 at Old Trafford as a captain but, unsurprisingly, did not as a manager.
The Championship leaders nevertheless acquitted themselves well. This was Burnley, but not as Old Trafford used to know them. With Sean Dyche watching on from the television studios, the side has been reinvented under his successor, pragmatists becoming purists and passers. Kompany saw it as a barometer of Burnley’s progress and only made two changes. They departed defeated but should have had at least one goal to show for their creativity.
An unmarked Ashley Barnes glanced a header wide in the fourth minute; after Eriksen struck, Manuel Benson sprang to life, following a mazy run with a shot into the side-netting and then whipping in an effort Martin Dubravka parried. The vibrant Belgian showed he had the ability to trouble Tyrell Malacia. The substitute Darko Churlinov should have halved the deficit, angling a shot wide after a wonderful pass by Johann Berg Gudmundsson. Barnes completed a hat-trick of misses, the last after a rare stray pass by Casemiro.
United, too, could rue a profligacy. Electric when United paused, Alejandro Garnacho lost a spark in his break. He twice should have broken the deadlock. When Fernandes supplied a defence-splitting pass, his shot was tame and saved by Muric. When Rashford released him, his touch was poor. Scott McTominay, teed up by Rashford after another glorious pass from Fernandes, ought to have doubled the lead sooner. Antony, another back from Qatar, could have added a third later on.
It mattered not. Kompany, a former Carabao Cup-winning captain, suffered just a third defeat in charge of Burnley. Rashford progressed to a first quarter-final since England’s loss to France and United may sense that 2023 could end their wait for silverware.