Sean Dyche is prepared for another meeting with the “best side” Burnley have faced this season – and he would not be surprised if Manchester United’s all-time record scorer answers his critics at Turf Moor.
United boss Jose Mourinho admitted his team were “in trouble” ahead of their visit to east Lancashire on Sunday after Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were both forced off in Thursday’s Europa League win over Anderlecht.
The loss of the latter could be pivotal as United have relied heavily on the 35-year-old, who has scored significantly more than anyone else in Mourinho’s squad since he moved to Old Trafford in the summer.
His total is dwarfed by the overall haul Wayne Rooney has managed in his United career, though, and Ibrahimovic’s absence may lead to the 31-year-old club captain having a more prominent role in the team’s final few fixtures – something Dyche was quick to highlight when quizzed about his next opponents’ injury issues.
“They’re not short of options, without a shadow of a doubt,” he explained.
“The one everyone thinks is not that good any more, I think he’s decent – the boy Rooney, I always think he ain’t bad. I certainly think if they chose to play him, I don’t think he would let anyone down.
“You get to an age where you’re questioned regardless of performances. He’s a top-class player, you can’t achieve what he’s achieved in the game and not be a top-class player. You can’t cheat the system.
“Whatever his journey forward is he will remain a top-class player in my eyes.”
Rooney was brought on back in October when a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford started United’s current 22-game unbeaten streak in the league.
The story that day was a familiar one for Mourinho as they failed to turn their dominance at home into three points, though Burnley’s Tom Heaton took the plaudits after keeping a clean sheet against a team that amassed 38 shots.
“On that day I think they were the best side we’ve played this season,” Dyche admitted.
“We had to give every bit of air in our lungs to try and get something, and Tom made saves and the defensive unit just stuck to the task.
“I thought they were excellent on the day. I know they’ve had a few days like that at home where they’ve had so many chances to get the game done and they’ve haven’t quite done it.
“On our day it was because of our goalkeeper, I thought he was outstanding.
“They’re a fine side, in my opinion. There’s a bit of noise about them being up and down but I still think they’re a really good side with a top-class manager.”
Midfielder Joey Barton will be available to Dyche on Sunday despite attending a Football Association hearing on Friday in relation to betting charges.
Press Association Sport understands the commission was adjourned without a decision being reached so Barton is free to face United.