Wayne Rooney spontaneously combusted into form last night? Or was he allowed to do as he pleased? I’ll leave those questions open for debate. What was blatently evident? The gulf in class between the two teams. And the gulf, for all I want to ignore and deny it, is massive.
Manchester United were utterly ruthless going forward and resilient at the back. Villa were ponderous when countering and clumsy defensively. We didn’t get our rears handed to us, but never ever looked like forcing United to step up a notch. Literally they were untroubled for long spells – and that must be marked down as a concern.
Still – what did we expect (as Villa fans) to get from Manchester United? Had we visited a month ago, OPTA would probably still be calculating the score. But with renewed optimism a fair few supporters were sensing, even expecting an upset yesterday evening. In the preview I outlined that we were going to United a more organised unit – but that we were up against an undefeated winning machine.
It took Wayne Rooney 54 seconds to get on a long punt up-field from Van Der Sar – Dunne was caught off guard and was uncharacteristically out muscled by Rooney. Rooney unleashed an unstoppable pile-driver that arced over the helpless Friedel. This already had the hallmarks of classic Villa away drubbing.
The first half yielded little for Villa – we moved the ball well but to not discernible gain – and United bided their time. Friedel was called into action on a number of occasions and produced some outstanding saves. Villa’s oldest player kept the score respectable last night and his contribution this season – and indeed since he joined the club – should not be forgotten.
Half time loomed and the whistle was but moments from being blown when Villa committed the ultimate sin of conceding a second. An utterly abysmal time to concede. Our defending had been questionable all night. Dunne’s recent improved form evaporated, Collins’ decision making at times defied belief, Clark was overwhelmed and Walker looked out of his depth. Collectively it was a poor showing against a very potent attacking team.
As the whistle went Rooney had smashed a second past Friedel following a perfect ball from Nani – the defence looked around sheepishly and Jean Makoun stood wondering why he was the only player capable of passing the ball to a claret and blue shirt. Going in at half time on such a low after seemingly holding United for so long looked to visibly hit a number of our players – the half time team talk would be key to preventing this from becoming a humiliation.
The team emerged unchanged and picked up the pieces. Villa improved massively, there was more movement, fewer hopeful balls and a bit of urgency. And being two down at Old Trafford posed a dilemma. Do you try to counter and give it a go and risk a whipping? Or do you keep picking away at the lock? Villa chose the latter and were rewarded with a goal back courtesy of the predatory Darren Bent.
Downing, whose fine early season form has evaded him in recent weeks, broke down the right and found Bent bearing down on goal. The goal machine made no mistake firing beyond Van Der Sar. But the celebrations were short lived and if anything the goal awoke United from their nap. Vidic soon sealed the points for Man U with an fine bending finish inside the box just a few minutes later. The second time the Serbian has scored against us this season. Awful defending. No chance Friedel.
Hidden in the disappointment of the defeat at Old Trafford last night lie many positives. Makoun moved the ball well. He played a number of clever passes that came off. He also played Villa into space time and time again and alleviated pressure by being open to receive all night. So far, so good from him. Darren Bent also looks like the real deal. He took his goal expertly and will be a genuine asset for us not just now, but hopefully years to come.
Worries? The deterioration of Stilyan Petrov. Petrov has been a fine servant to the club, always gives his all but last night unfortunately exposed him as a spent force for Villa. Petrov’s ever decreasing stamina and mobility are going to have to be addressed by Houllier and one can only see that this will result in him dropping down the order. Subbed after little more than two thirds of the game gone, his disdain at being removed pretty much summed his performance up.
I am also concerned by Carlos Cueller’s inability to get a game. The man plays in any position asked of him along the back four, and distribution aside, is arguably the best defender we have. I was once again bemused by his lack of inclusion in the starting line up – and I am concerned that Carlos will wake up one day soon and decide to leave for pastures new.
But all is not lost. Villa go into the weekend perhaps a little disheartened by last night, but surely looking at Fulham as a very winnable game. Fulham under Hodgson were a decent unit but were still poor on the road. Since Mark Hughes took over they certainly haven’t progressed and I would like to think that Gerard has them marked down with a big fat 3 points circled.