Scott McTominay’s eighth-minute curler from the edge of the area was United’s quickest top-flight goal since the Scot scored twice in the opening minutes against Leeds more than 12 months ago
Jadon Sancho’s deflected effort doubled the hosts’ advantage before Cristiano Ronaldo – who had wasted a glorious chance after being sent clean through when the game was still goalless – tapped into an empty net after McTominay’s shot had been touched on to a post by Burnley keeper Wayne Hennessey.
Aaron Lennon took advantage of a poor first touch from Eric Bailly to pull one back for the visitors with a clinical finish into the bottom corner.
However, in their first game since 12 December, Burnley lacked the stamina or the guile to trouble United further and remain in the bottom three.
The victory extends United’s unbeaten run since the dismissal of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to eight matches, although as they are only two points closer to the top of the league than the bottom, they still have some way to go if they are to start to create a meaningful legacy to the feats of Sir Alex Ferguson, who celebrates his 80th birthday on New Year’s Eve.
Small signs of progress
There were two moments of small detail that were of major significance to the hosts in an opening period that represented the best 45 minutes of Ralf Rangnick’s short time in charge.
The first came very early, when Mason Greenwood was beginning to run inside from the right wing. Edinson Cavani told him to stop and hold his position. It was the kind of authority United have lacked amid the recent arm-waving and general “whinging” as Gary Neville put it.
Greenwood obeyed, became more effective as a result and created space for others at the same time.
The second element was Sancho. The England man has been a shadow of the player who impressed so much at Borussia Dortmund, but the way he demanded the ball from Luke Shaw before steering into the far corner what would have been his first goal at Old Trafford had it not flicked off Burnley skipper Ben Mee was a welcome sign of confidence.
Although Rangnick made six changes to his starting line-up, the combination of injuries and positive coronavirus tests that deprived Burnley boss Sean Dyche of seven first-teamers was more of a blow.
The absence of England keeper Nick Pope was Covid related and meant only a second Premier League appearance since lockdown for former Crystal Palace keeper Hennessey.
The Wales international produced a couple of eye-catching saves, one of which prevented McTominay finishing off a length-of-the-field move in the second half.
Given the opposition and the time his side have been without a game, Dyche may not be too dispirited by the outcome. Sunday’s trip to fellow strugglers Leeds is far more significant in the wider scheme of things.
Manchester United’s next game is against Wolves at Old Trafford on Monday, 3 January (17:30 GMT). Burnley are next in action against Leeds at Elland Road on Sunday, 2 January (14:00)