Result: Manchester United 2-1 Aston Villa
Villa will leave Old Trafford feeling unfortunate not to have at least grabbed a point. This was a determined performance from Dean Smith’s side, in a match where both teams enjoyed waves of pressure.
Ultimately the game was decided on a handful of singular moments.
Villa will be disappointed at the manner of the United’s opener. Breaking down Villa’s right, it appeared that Anthony Martial would be crowded out from any cross. Mings, returning to the side after suspension, inexplicably missed the header, enabling Martial to guide a header home.
It was a hammer blow near to half-time after Villa had worked hard to build a platform after early United pressure.
McGinn went closest in the first half, getting on the end of a perfect cross only to see his volley well saved by De Gea.
Villa persevered in the second half, with the game remaining a free-flowing affair as both teams looked to counter. United always looked a threat, breaking with pace as Fernandes, Rashford and Pogba always dangerous.
Grealish was chaperoned all night but found space where he could in order to keep Villa ticking over. His interplay and movement were once again excellent if closely watched over.
Villa’s efforts were duly rewarded with an equaliser, as Bertrand Traore found the net at the far post when the ball broke free; the former Lyon forward applied a calm finish as the United defence scrambled.
It was an otherwise difficult night for Traore, who struggled with the tempo and in supporting Cash with United marauding repeatedly down the flank.
The most contentious incident once again brings VAR firmly into the spotlight.
Douglas Luiz found himself tight to Pogba in the Villa penalty area and was adjudged to have fouled the Frenchman as he collapsed to the turf. Replays showed that whilst Luiz certainly had an arm on Pogba’s shoulder, the United man clipped his own heels.
It remains perplexing as to how this was overlooked in the subsequent VAR review or why Michael Oliver, the match referee, failed to consult the pitchside screen. VAR continues to suck the life out of football, being the main talking point, when the competitive encounter should have been centre-stage.Embed from Getty Images
Emi Martinez came to Villa’s aid on more than one occasion. A second-half one-handed save onto the crossbar, after Fernandes picked his spot, being the stand-out moment.
Villa must also reflect on missed opportunities. Watkins, saw a good header saved by De Gea and other headed opportunities either go wide or missed. Watkins increasingly looks like a striker who is just bang out of luck. He also looked absolutely shattered by the close of play, mentally and physically.
Mings too had a great opportunity, managing only to head wide from a Villa corner. El Ghazi blazed just over when well placed and Matty Cash forced De Gea into a diving save late on with a curling effort from outside the box.
As the seconds ticked away, substitute Keinan Davis saw a flicked header go wide and a last-ditch effort blocked after the ball broke in the United area. There was more than a hint of handball from Maguire.
There was no disgrace in this Villa display and it’s a shame that once more we must ponder lapses at the back and the incompetence of VAR.
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DEAN SMITH INTERVIEW
Man Utd 2-1 Aston Villa
Villa ran United close at Old Trafford and will feel unlucky as another VAR penalty decision went against Smith’s side. http://gty.im/1294052520