Aston Villa 1 – 3 Manchester United
Soft penalties have been at the root of the story of Aston Villa’s recent battles against Manchester United. The Red Devil’s have benefitted from poor refereeing certainly in the past two encounters, but the long stretching history of decisions in favour of them has become infuriating for Villa fans. Younger Villans wouldn’t have been alive to see Villa’s last win against United at Villa Park, in 1995. The record against them has been truly awful for a long time.
Dean Smith named an unchanged team from the one that played Villa’s best football of 2021 against Everton. Match winner, Anwar El Ghazi would be looking to have another goal-scoring purple patch after netting twice in the past two games. Both Carney Chukwuemeka and Jaden Philogene-Bidace had places on the bench, having not yet made an appearance for the first team.
Despite a crowded upcoming fixture list, Manchester United had a full-strength team out. Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba’s inclusion would mean Villa’s defenders would have to avoid breathing too heavily while in their own box.
In the first 10 minutes Villa were under the cosh. United had four shots, and Luke Shaw was causing problems down the left, forcing a save off Emi Martinez. Dean Smith’s men then gained a footing in the game. Bertrand Traore broke into the left side of the Red Devils box and despite Victor Lindelof’s efforts to thwart him, the Villa winger unleashed an unstoppable strike from a tight angle, finding the top corner with precision.
With Villa in lead, United tried to push back with a few shots from outside the box, but Martinez was equal to all of them. The next best chance of the half fell to Ollie Watkins, with the final kick of the half. His low shot was just tipped wide by a diving Dean Henderson. A very positive and high energy 45 minutes from the Villans.
United came out the better team in the early second half, and by the 56th minute, Villa were 2-1 down. A rash lunge from Douglas Luiz on Pogba, who invited it, led to a penalty despatched by Bruno Fernandes, and a Mason Greenwood strike, gave United the lead. A decent first-half Villa performance was flushed away in no time.
United continued to control the game until Smith brought on Davis and Wesley. There were then chances for Villa to get level. Bertrand Traore had a couple of attempts, and Keinan Davis had an opportunity to left fly, but opted to pass to Watkins. Then came the goal to kill off the game from United. Marcus Rashford wasn’t closed down at all by Matt Targett, and had all the time in the world to set himself and pick out a smart run by Edinson Cavani.
Ollie Watkins picked up a second yellow for diving in the closing moments. Referee’s rarely give cards for simulation now, so that added some extra salt into the wound. Also, there appeared to be some contact on Watkins (although after he had control of the ball), penalties have been given for less to United.
There were plenty of individual errors in the second-half, but it’s infuriating how fans could have written the script for the game before it kicked off. Villa go ahead, United penalty, small decisions go United’s way, United win.
Emiliano Martinez – 6
Emi Martinez made some good, if comfortable saves in the first-half. His handling was particularly good, and the one time he did parry a shot, Ezri Konsa was there to clear. The Villa keeper perhaps didn’t get a strong enough hand on Mason Greenwood’s shot, but its hard to single him out.
Matty Cash – 5
Matty Cash struggled up against the duel threat of Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw. The right-back wasn’t helped by the lack of support from Bertrand Traore, but he was still often run ragged. He was completely outdone by Cavani’s inside then outside run before the away side’s third goal. The lack of experience playing against top forwards really showed, but some help from Targett closing down on the other side would’ve have helped.
Ezri Konsa – 7
A team leading eight clearances and three blocks show just how active Ezri Konsa was. He was certainly the most calm and sturdy member of the Villa defence against United. If there was a loose ball that needed sweeping up, or a block to make, he was there. He was helped by the fact that Cavani didn’t start, as in the first-half there wasn’t a predatory forward lurking to pounce on the ball when it dropped in the area.
Tyrone Mings © – 6
Tyrone Mings over-committed himself for the Greenwood goal. The Villa skipper had the young forward with his back to goal, and had little reason to commit and try and win the ball when there wasn’t a huge deal of danger. Other than the error, Mings had a good game, he led the team in interceptions, and made an important block off a Paul Pogba shot in the first-half.
Matt Targett – 6
Matt Targett was so good in the first-half. However, his second-half display left a little to be desired. One moment in particular sticks out. The ball comes to Marcus Rashford, he can take a touch, look up, turn, and play in a cross, all without the Villa full-back closing him down at all. Tyrone Mings had Aaron Wan-Bissaka covered to his right. Rashford should have been rushed, which could have prevented a goal.
Douglas Luiz – 5
Villa fans know Douglas Luiz has a rash streak, but to lunge into a tackle at that stage of the game, against Manchester United. You think he would’ve learned that you can’t even give a United player a hard stare in the box without them tripping over their own feet. Luiz made Pogba’s job of going down so much easier, he was waiting for the contact and the Brazilian obliged. Luiz had a decent enough first half, before his faux pas early in the second half.
John McGinn – 7
John McGinn was Villa’s star man in the first-half. His influence on the second was non-existent. The Scot held up the ball expertly, pressed like a madman and made hard challenges, that caused chaos for the visitors. His hard work set up the opener, as he recaptured his best form for 45 minutes. This is the same John McGinn that outplayed N’Golo Kante against Chelsea earlier this season, he just doesn’t do it consistently enough.
Bertrand Traore – 7
The less said about Bertrand Traore’s back-tracking the better, but on the attack he was largely a dynamic threat. Even in the second-half when Villa’s performance dropped, he was the man to create and attempt to get the team back into the game. His striker past Henderson was sublime, proving that when he’s on form, he can be one of Villa’s better players going forward.
Ross Barkley – 5
Hmm, this was a bit more like the Ross Barkley of the rest of 2021, as opposed to the Barkley of the past two games. One key pass, dispossessed twice and two unsuccessful touches, not the creative spark Villa need. It can’t even be said that he pressed well, it was back to the jogging forward and poor effort. Maybe he’ll turn it back on for Everton next time.
Anwar El Ghazi – 6
Anwar El Ghazi didn’t do a lot for a man that’s in a spell of reasonable form. He occasionally linked up well with Matt Targett, but Villa needed something more from the Dutchman. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a good defensive full-back, and El Ghazi struggled to get the better of him.
Ollie Watkins – 6
It felt a little harsh for Ollie Watkins to get sent off. Away from the bookings, Watkins was tireless as ever, and with his best chance to shoot, he forced a good save from Dean Henderson. In the second half, Villa didn’t work the long balls into the channels as well as they have in recent games. Victor Lindelof was clearly vulnerable defensively, but Villa rarely exploited that route through to goal.
Off the Bench
Jacob Ramsey (64) – 5
Jacob Ramsey made 20 touches after coming on for Luiz. None of these touches were really of any consequence. Smith seemingly goes to the youngster as his go to when he needs a game changer, at the moment. While Ramsey is young and clearly a good prospect, he isn’t the type to drastically swing proceedings in Villa’s favour.
Keinan Davis (76) – 6
Keinan Davis’ moment came, and he made the wrong decision. Space opened up for the big striker after he out-muscled Victor Lindelof. he really should have pulled the trigger instead of passing. Perhaps he’s saving all his goals for next season?
Wesley (76) – 5
It was good to see Wesley out playing once again, but he didn’t exactly make his presence felt up front. Keinan Davis pressed well and tried to do something, Wesley seemed to float about waiting for the ball to come to him, instead of trying to get involved. In the end, he only managed three touches in his cameo.
Dean Smith – 6
The first-half performance was very good from Dean Smith’s men. The pressing and energy, and quality on the ball were all there. This was lost in the second-half, and there was a distinct air of inevitability about the game. It felt like United were destined to win, could Smith have done anything different to stop it, who knows? You can’t blame him for Luiz’s lack of discipline lunging in on Pogba.
Villa have an awful historic record against United, it seems as if it doesn’t matter what Villa do, the football gods will make sure of a United victory. Hopefully the Villans can capture some of their first-half display for Everton, next time out.