Football Features

“This is what he’s all about” – Greenwood’s ‘Cavani impression’ on show as Man Utd beat Aston Villa

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:48, 9 May 2021

In an exciting afternoon of football, Manchester United came from behind to beat 10-man Aston Villa and keep their Premier League title hopes alive.

Villa took the lead through a stunning Bertrand Traoré strike but United roared back with goals from Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani. It is now 25 years since Villa last beat United at home.

There some interesting things happening at Villa Park as United came from behind to win yet again and extended their unbeaten away run in the process. After a bit of sloppy play led to Villa’s opener, Fred played with incredible composure in the heart of midfield, completing 57 of 61 attempted passes for a completion percentage of 96.8%!

Fred developing into a reliable and consistent presence in midfield goes a long way to explain how United were able to wrest back control of this game from Villa while also boding very well for next season, especially in terms of saving the Red Devils money (turns out they might only need to sign one defensive mid!)

The other interesting thing was the way in which one of United’s defensive midfielders would drop between the centre-backs in the build-up phase. Not that United turned into a Pep Guardiola side building from the back, but when they did pass it out both defenders had split wide and the full-backs pushed on; coupled with Paul Pogba dropping a bit deeper and suddenly the Red Devils looked a side that could build play with a degree of intelligence.

Time will tell if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer intends for that to become a regular part of their system of play or if it was a unique thing designed to cope with pressing sides. United may have to pay attention to their defensive structure for this week, however, as Harry Maguire’s everpresent streak in the Premier League ended as he left the field injured. With United’s next game in just two days, could they be forced to start a Premier League match without their captain?

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The most important thing on display at Villa Park, however, was the goals. And in particular the latter two goalscorers. Obviously Bruno Fernandes stepping up and scoring his penalty was very impressive (the hop was back!) but what came next is what will give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hope for an impressive ending to the season, including a possible Europa League victory, and many years to come.

Mason Greenwood scored his fifth goal in his last five Premier League games, spinning Tyrone Mings like a top before measuring and picking out a perfect low shot to beat Emi Martinez in the Villa goal. It was a sumptuous goal, moreso for the movement tham the strike.

Sure, the strike was good – but as Troy Deeney said post-match: “This is what he’s all about. Right foot, left foot, doesn’t matter he hits it well.” Greenwood being able to shoot is noted, what has often been lacking from his game is the other parts of being a striker. The movement in the box, the little things to lose a marker and get a good shot off.

The kind of movements Edinson Cavani excels at. As Joleon Lescott said in the Sky Sports studio, the Uruguayan often “makes selfless runs,” into space that drag markers out of the way of others. But he also knows how to find space. His movement for the third goal, first peeling wide to get a shot off in space and then when that was blocked staying wide until the ball had been recycled to Marcus Rashford wide right.

As soon as Rashford had the ball, Cavani set off on a run inside the full-back and around the front of Ezri Konsa who didn’t see him coming. Rashford had already put the ball into the area and Cavani met it supremely with a lovely glancing header to make it 1-3.

The Uruguayan now has 8 goals in his last 7 games and has found form at exactly the right time for the Red Devils in terms of winning trophies this year. But more valuable in the long-term is what his presence can teach young Mason Greenwood, how his movement can educate the sharpshooter in ways that will improve his game so much.

We saw a glimpse of that today as Greenwood’s “Cavani-esque” turn allowed him the space to shoot, and then his natural skill gave him the ability to score. He is now the youngest scoring teenager for United in Premier League history, overtaking the legendary Wayne Rooney. And with the guidance of someone like Cavani, the young Greenwood can now set his sights on helping United win more games and perhaps breaking some of Rooney’s other records.