Saturday, 2 January 2021

Match report: Manchester United 2-1 Aston Villa

Goals from Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes fired United to a crucial New Year's Day victory over Aston Villa to move the Reds level on points with Liverpool.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side had started 2020 - a year like no other - with a dismal defeat at Arsenal but opened the new decade with a stirring and exciting victory over Dean Smith's in-form Villains. United had only managed a draw in the corresponding fixture last term against a side who would only escape the drop on the final day of the season. But Villa are a much improved outfit this time around and, in truth, will probably feel they deserved at least a point from another rip-roaring Old Trafford contest.

Solskjaer made four alterations from the side that had beaten Wolves only 72 hours previously as Luke Shaw, Fred, Scott McTominay and Anthony Martial came in for Alex Telles, Nemanja Matic, Mason Greenwood and the suspended Edinson Cavani.
United had struggled for long periods against Wolves but found the open nature of this tie much more to our liking. Fernandes was foiled by Emi Martinez inside five minutes, before the former Arsenal keeper was called into action again moments later to deny the returning Martial from distance.
Fred flashed an effort over the bar whilst David de Gea was tested at the other end through John McGinn, with a save to rival that of his opposite number as he clawed away the Villa man's 20 yarder.

Pogba thumped a strike wide before Villa enjoyed a spell of dominance, albeit one in which they failed to test De Gea. 
Fernandes went close with a curler on 37 minutes, but a breakthrough was not long in coming as United moved ahead shortly afterwards, three minutes before the interval. De Gea started the move, but Pogba's involvement caught the eye as he cushioned the ball and flicked it to Marcus Rashford. He moved the ball on to Aaron Wan - Bissaka and the United right-back picked out the onrushing Martial to stoop and nod in his fifth of the season from close range.

If United thought that goal would douse the Villa fire, it proved to be anything but. De Gea saved superbly from Ollie Watkins, after a devilish Jack Grealish delivery, and Anwar El Ghazi flashed a shot over the bar at the culmination of a quick counter attack. 
Rashford had a shot in an increasingly end-to-end encounter but it was Villa whom capitalised on their impressive post-interval opening. A quick free-kick caught United flat-footed and Grealish crossed to the far post where Bertrand Traore rifled in under De Gea.

Three minutes further on, and the Reds re-took the lead in familiar fashion. Pogba was scythed down by Douglas Luiz and, after the customary check from VAR, Fernandes lashed home the spot-kick to restore our lead.

Martial almost put the result beyond doubt with a piledriver that was tipped wide by Martinez, and the excellent Pogba again went close after good work from Luke Shaw in the build-up.

Watkins went close for Villa, Fernandes forced a top-class save from Martinez, and Rashford saw a superb drive flash inches over the bar.
Yet United never do anything easily and were made to sweat for victory as the lively visitors pushed for a late leveller. The Reds found themselves under siege as De Gea saved superbly from Matty Cash and Grealish, before Eric Bailly produced a match-winning intervention with a stunning block to deny substitute Keinan Davis in the final seconds. 

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Eric Bailly. Colossal. 

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