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