Aston Villa lost their first game of the 2021 calendar year to Manchester Utd at Old Trafford. It was Manchester Utd’s 27th penalty since Ole Gunnar Solsjakar became manager two years ago that separated the two sides in the end.
Dean Smith decided to bring back the suspended Tyrone Mings as Kortney Hause dropped to the bench in the only change from the 1-1 draw with Chelsea. There was still no sign of Ross Barkley with Smith later saying that he expects the on-loan midfielder to return when we take on Tottenham Hotspur in just over a weeks time.
Sloppy & slow start
Manchester Utd got off to a fast start as Villa looked tired, slow and sloppy and the home side could have taken the lead inside two minutes. The Brazilian midfielder, Fred put the ball over the top of the Villa defence and found Bruno Fernandes whose cross was blocked by Emi Martinez. The ball bounced loose as Villa looked all over the place but Anwar El Ghazi was able to prevent Marcus Rashford from scoring.
Martinez was once again called into action a few moments later when Fernandes jumped on a sloppy pass and found Anthony Martial but he was denied by an acrobatic save from the Argentinian goalkeeper.
Villa started to get a hold of the game once the got through the initial 10 minutes and were unlucky not to take the lead themselves through John McGinn. Jack Grealish slipped Matty Cash through who crossed the ball and the Scott volleyed the ball but David De Gea was equal to the effort in the United goal.
Despite Villa’s domination, it was Manchester Utd who carried the threat and they soon made it count. Paul Pogba flicked the ball over McGinn, Rashford played Aarron Wan-Bissaka down the line before the full-back played a low cross in which it looked as if Mings would get his head to, but he missed the ball and Martial headed past Martinez.
Stronger second half
Half time probably come at the right time for Villa and they come out for the second half and looked more of a threat.
First, Cash’s cross come shot narrowly went over the bar and then Grealish found Ollie Watkins from a pinpoint cross but De Gea tipped it over the crossbar.
Grealish was becoming more and more involved as Manchester Utd’s only way of stopping him was to foul him. The England international then played a cross-field ball over to Watkins who then set up El Ghazi but his effort went over the bar.
Villa were soon level though through Bertrand Traore. Once again Grealish was involved. McGinn took a quick free-kick and released Grealish on the left, his low cross was missed by Douglas Luiz but fell to Traore who controlled the ball and then slotted home.
More VAR controversy
It was only a matter of minutes before United restored their lead though. Luiz was judged to have fouled Pogba in the Villa box, awarding Manchester Utd, yet another penalty. On replay, it looked a very dubious decision. I can see why it was given but it was incredibly harsh and you do have to question why the referee didn’t go a view the monitor himself.
Villa had a penalty overturned against Brighton which cost them the game in November when there was a lot more contact. All we ask for is consistency, something the officials in this country don’t seem able to offer.
Fernandes stepped up from the spot, Martinez guessed the correct side but the Portuguese midfielder gave the goalkeeper no chance.
The game became more open with chances for both sides coming. Grealish sent over a whipping cross but somehow Wan-Bissaka kept it off El Ghazi’s head.
Pogba probably should have increased the home sides advantage but his effort went wide from Luke Shaw’s cross while Watkins hit a Grealish cross just wide.
Villa could have had a penalty late on when a ball into the box appeared to hit Harry Maguire‘s arm but nothing was said and once again VAR didn’t even look at a similar incident Villa have had gone against them in previous games.
Onwards and upwards
Despite the dubious decisions, it was a spirited display by Smith’s men against a Manchester Utd side who are now joint top of the Premier League with Liverpool. They can take a lot from a fixture we would usually fear.
The performance was far from perfect and there are areas we need to work on but we were in the game right until the end and can take a lot of positives into the next one.