Aston Villa 2-3 Manchester United – Villa’s tactics come so close to working

Manchester United beat Aston Vila 3-2 at Villa Park having been two goals down

Author: Doron

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Despite playing in the late game on Saturday, United knew they could go four points clear at the top with Chelsea and Man City playing in tough games on Sunday. United’s record at Villa Park is famously good – a traditional football stadium with a good atmosphere. Villa’s youthful team would have other ideas though and are trying to get away from the bottom quarter of the table. We welcome comments from both sets of supporters.

Predicting correctly (again)

For the second week running we have got the predicted team right in our match preview. This was in many ways an easy team to guess – Evans’ injury guaranteed Smalling would start whilst the only contentious issue was whether it would be Scholes or Cleverley. After three weeks rest, Fergie went with Paul’s experience – it was far from his finest game for United suggesting that three weeks without a game maybe leaves him a tad rusty rather than refreshed. There were no complaints from this end with the team that started the game – we weren’t to know that it would require a half time shake-up to actually win the match.

Aston Villa’s tactical setup

Even as a United fan it felt a travesty that Villa got nothing from the game. Paul Lambert had set his side up perfectly to deal with United and the players selected didn’t let him down.

A young back four which included Enda Stevens make his first league start, dealt admirably with United’s attacking play. Van Persie was predominantly marked out of the first half by Vlaar who marshalled the defence superbly. Both Lowton and Stevens stood up to Young and Valencia well, blocking many crosses or forcing United players to try and cross the ball from awkward angles. The two fullbacks got help from Weimann and Agbonlahor who worked hard to double up on United players.

Where Lambert really excelled was in the middle. Westwood and Bannan sat very deep in front of the Villa defence, crowding the midfield and not giving United any space to maneuver the ball about in the final third. Both Ireland and Benteke were tireless runners to close down Scholes and afford him little space and even the United back line. Weimann and Agbonlahor again doing their work for the team in this area too.

It enabled Villa to repel United attacks and then break with speed. When in possession, Westwood and Bannan pushed higher up as the front four all broke up the pitch as a unit and with pace. It caught United out on a couple of occasions and helped to create both goals.

Ultimately, Villa, having put in so much effort and energy, tired late on and United’s pressure told as they were able to capitalise on rare defensive errors. Lambert was unable to be critical of his side after the game – they had been superb and although United’s pressure in the second half probably deserved the win, Villa certainly deserved a draw.

Evra’s back in form

Having been heavily criticised for slack performances over the past 18 months, Evra’s recent form has been back to a level that we’re more comfortable with. The errors have gone and he’s been defensively sound for the majority of this season.

At Villa, he was the one defender who didn’t put a foot wrong and even made some crucial body-on-the-line blocks late on. Going forward, he tried to give some impetus to United in what was a stale first half as he overlapped with Young and generally worked hard to make himself available.

Smalling’s return to league action involved a forgettable first half – he admitted his error for Villa’s opener as he was sucked into trying to out-muscle Benteke. His second half was superb though – he attacked high balls excellently and was a composed figure at the back. Ferdinand could be held culpable for Villa’s second goal but on the whole he was solid, much like Rafael – who was at times sucked out of position.

The final defensive thought from the game is reserved for De Gea. He was unfairly criticised for Villa’s opener despite the fact his view of the ball was blocked, and he could do nothing about the second goal. Late on though, he met every single Villa cross with a confident punch – and importantly he had to go through players to get to the ball. A welcome change.


Javier Hernandez. What can one say about him that’s not been said already? The finisher has become much more but yet his ability to put the ball in the net remains lethal. Fergie was right that having a proper summer break would do him good – he looks fit, fresh and deadly.

His introduction not only scared Villa because of his pace but his movement pulled their defenders out of position and was able to create room for Van Persie to play a bigger role a little deeper. His goals were well taken, particularly the first – getting a shot away when it looks like it may be tricky with the ball under his feet. The second has gone down as an own goal but his timing at the back post whilst doing a short stint on the wing was perfect. The third was a combination of luck (slack marking) and good finishing.

You’d probably be delighted if your daughter brought Javier home with her. Few footballers are as likable as he is with his infectious and cheeky smile. It comes through in interviews too – an almost girlish giggle that comes with answers, he’s just a very happy chap who’s genuinely thrilled to be at the club. The question is, can he deliver from the start (Norwich away next week) or is he best used either against tiring legs or when United are chasing a game so he can stretch a team? Either way, what a great response to the challenge of Van Persie.


A torrid first half, mainly because Villa had things so right saw United go behind right on the stroke of half time. A Weimann double saw Villa in dreamland but they’d been there before against United without a happy ending.

Young and Valencia both had poor games making it a shame that Nani’s unfit but with the help of Hernandez’s finishing, United took the chances they created to nab three unlikely looking points with the winner coming in the 87th minute. Van Persie hit the bar twice in the space of 47 seconds – although it would have given the scoreline a very unfair look if they’d gone in.

It was in the end a classic United comeback, and one that seemed unlikely after 50 minutes. If Villa can play with that intensity every week they’ll start to turn things around soon. As results on Sunday would go, United are now two points ahead of City and three ahead of Chelsea. Oddly, United are still yet to draw a league game this season. As ever, head over to the Beautifully Red blog to see some moments you may have forgotten from the game.

One doesn’t want to get overexcited or look too far ahead but the next four league games look very winnable in the run up to the first Manchester derby of the season in just under a month.

10 Comments on Aston Villa 2-3 Manchester United – Villa’s tactics come so close to working

  1. “Rafael – who was at times sucked out of position.”

    Totally agree, he goes missing too often. The opposition target the space behind him, this in turn drags the CB across leaving space in front of goal.

  2. Conclusions.

    Every time we play we have to earn the right to play on Saturday again we were sluggish, no tempo and never got going. We were starting play too deep and with wingers out of form.
    Scholes and Carrick every time they play together play parallel and too deep.

    This means we don’t have an attacking central midfielder to create problems when they both play there and on Saturday when Young and Valencia were both in wide positions poor therefore no creativity.

    Whenever the opposition get midfielders to burst past into the space behind them they are both too slow to go with them.Defensively we are wide open when they play together with anyone breaking from midfield, as with Ireland for the 2nd goal.

    Carrick and Scholes can only play together if Scholes plays 15 yards further up the pitch as his starting point where he can hurt the opposition and we don’t then start every phase of play with 6 at the back.
    Let him play as an attacking midfilder an hour to hurt them and come off when this lungs give out

    Ashley Young- Why did we buy him,why is he playing on the left wing with no left foot. Every time he gets the ball he tries to come back inside. Totally predictable and really poor. This is bad enough at the best of times, but his confidence is shot at the minute.

    We need a left footed left winger.When Kagawa is fit play him on the left or buy a left winger in the Jarvis/ Ince mould – quick direct and most importantly left footed.

    What’s happened to my personal favourite Valencia using his pace to take on the full back and cross with his right foot. Direct, terrifying and was our key weapon.

    This season he is checking every time in front of the full back and coming inside and we all know he has no left foot whatsoever.
    Fergie’s instructions to Valencia.
    “Run him Toni, Run Him every time get to the byline and cross it. Do what you are the best in the league at and do not come inside cos you have no left foot at all”

  3. Football, bloody hell. Watching United this season…..
    That 1st half was an absolute shambles. We were all over the place. Sloppy. Nothing was coming off. Nothing! Pathetic football. Young was horiffic! And so too was Valencia. Fucking about again. Crossing like a a school boy. Scholes and Carrick doesn’t work. Fergie should know that by now. Simples.
    Thank fuck the lads got their act together and what a substitution be Fergie at HT. Young is just not good enough to be a United player and that’s just my opinion. I questioned when we signed him and I’m still questioning him now. Not United quality and I still think we should sign Bale at any cost in January or the summer. What a difference that lad would make to our team. We’d be unstoppable, honestly.
    Hernandez! What a Guy! Unreal! Absolutely lethal at the moment! He seems to have improved quite a bit and his technique is better than before no question about it. That header for the winner was superb! Well pleased for him. Just hope Welbz can start doing a bit of the same when he gets his chance…
    I still can’t get over that 1st half performance! Embarrassing stuff! We were playing like a relegation side. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Fair play to Villa though. They played well. We underestimated them that’s for sure. Complacency again.
    Hope wazza’s injury is not serious and that he’s back for Norwich. Nice cameos from cleverley and Anderson as well. Great 2nd half. Valencia was more like himself. Love it when he takes the ball on the wing and just runs with it. U can’t stop him. His crossing NEEDS to improve though! So was Rio, Patrice and Smalling 2nd half.
    UNITED! MASSIVE 3 points!

  4. Decent article and good to see the appreciation from United fans for what Villa are trying to achieve… being from Ireland you get a lot of United fans who don’t really know anything about football and support the club because of it’s grand success…. resulting in a lot of mouthing and not too much knowledge on anything besides the big 3 or 4 sides in the prem!

    I must say I thought Lambert got the tactics absolutely spot on but I feel the referee took this away from us…poor Stephen Ireland seemed shocked that Scholes is immune from being tackled without the ref blowing up…3times in 90 seconds and not one of them a foul..I’m sure you will recognise one of these as Benteke through on goal… these decisions seemed to let the Villa midfield know you are not allowed to be competitive!

    Then there was the chat with Brad Guzan at 1-0… for time wasting when he didn’t even have the ball..this was after 50mins and not one second of time wasting…Gazan laughed at the ref! I wondered how De Gae didn’t get a similar chat on 93mins when he took 50seconds with a free kick!

    The final decision that annoyed me led to the 1st United was given against Benteke after a goal kick had been launched his way… a tactic that had been working so well and one the ref must have felt he needed to take from us at 2-0… 5mins later it was 2-2 and we were allowed challenge again!

    listening to Ray at half time must have been one of the most embarrassing features of the season thus far… Benteke fouled Smalling for the goal?? Did he…replay after replay showed a shoulder to shoulder…but Ray went on to compare this to Rio’s foul on the monster where his leg clearly tripped him…

    I know I sound like a proper moan here and I can assure you it’s not something I’d generally associate myself with bt it really is getting to the stage where it’s embarrassing!

    Fair play on the article…very well written and decent points all round!

    Cheers and good luck with the league…

  5. @Tim Irish Villa – moan accepted although that’s all in the hands of the referee rather than United (despite what you can read on various Liverpool and Man City forums!).

    I didn’t really know what to expect from Villa given how they’ve played so far this year but it was good to watch. Will be interesting to see if they can replicate that kind of a performance against smaller sides though.

  6. well written piece again and very much true in the sense that utd were sloppy,sluggish,nightmare 1st half.better 2nd half but need to be consistent in both,also press the players more and taking shots outside the box.evra for me edges it in terms of most improved player in squad,felt he should have got m.o.m last week[gunners] he was immense,a number of players have done themselves no harm for regular 1st team action.keep the red flag flying high.

  7. I wouldn’t even consider holding it against an United fan…you’ll take everything you can get in football.. i just think the referees at the top level across Europe are an utter disgrace… you see it week in week out! Imagine how the chaps like me in Spain feel…at least financially the FA do as much as they can to keep us on a level playing field…though I wonder how long this will continue!

    Also, I was delighted to see Young taken off at half time…. that delight was short lived! Credit where it’s due and my god you boys are clinical- I said a month ago I think it will be the difference this yr and see you win the league!

  8. Paul Lambert is a very good coach. At the moment he have a very young squad at Villa. Mark my words, they’ll get better and no way they going down to the Championship next season. It thought Paul set up his team very well against United. Closing down so early and make it very difficult for us to play our passing game. However, confident is sky high now at Old Trafford. The players knew if they patient enough, sooner or later Villa will make mistakes.

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