Unai Emery couldn’t have asked for a better start as Aston Villa boss as he witnessed his side run out 3-1 winners against Manchester United at Villa Park in the Premier League this afternoon.
No one saw it coming but all three points remained in Birmingham and in doing so they broke a 23-game winless streak (15 losses and eight draws) against United at home in the Premier League, before today the last time Villa sent United home with nothing was on the opening day of the 1995/96 campaign (aka the “You can’t win anything with kids” game). Up until now this was the longest unbeaten away run one team has had against another in English league history.
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The former Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal head coach missed the Newcastle game last weekend, as he awaited final visa clearance before taking charge, though it was clear for all to see the size of the task he’s undertaken. Emery inherited a heavily invested squad flirting with danger, that being said they’ve shown brief spurts of quality, and the Spaniard’s job is to eke out some consistency and propel them up the championship table.
At least on debut history wasn’t on his side as each of the last nine managers whose first Premier League game at a club came against the Red Devils has lost, with Alan Curbishley at West Ham in December 2006 the last to emerge victorious. And before Curbishley, only Dave Bassett with Sheffield United (1992) and José Mourinho with Chelsea (2004) had that distinction. Emery, though, is no stranger to creating history and today’s success was built on a fast start. Leon Bailey, who oozes so much potential, broke the deadlock in the seventh minute before Lucas Digne doubled their lead moments later. A shellshocked United, which came into this weekend riding on a wave of momentum, were unable to recover.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) November 6, 2022
This was reminiscent of Erik ten Hag’s opening two matches in charge of United; against Brighton and then Brentford the 20-time English champions looked dishevelled and incoherent, but to his credit, he turned it around but this was another reminder of how vulnerable they remain especially when missing key personnel. Bruno Fernandes was suspended, in stepped the marginalised Donny van de Beek, but the Dutchman couldn’t impose himself and chances of a long-term future at Old Trafford are growing slimmer by the day.
David de Gea, the hero against West Ham, reverted to a previous hapless state. There was nothing he could have done to prevent Digne’s peach of a free-kick from going in; since his debut in the competition in August 2018, only four players have netted more from direct free kicks than Digne (3): James Ward-Prowse (12), James Maddison (8), Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold (4 each). But the former golden glove recipient was beaten so easily by Bailey’s effort. Those goals which came in a two-and-a-half minute span means only Bournemouth (17) shipped in more first-half goals than United (13) this season.
Jacob Ramsey, who assisted Bailey, would inadvertently put the ball into his net on the stroke of half-time to give Villa’s visitors some hope of gaining something from this contest, but Ramsey giveth and Ramsey taketh away. Just three minutes into the second half the 21-year-old restored Villa’s two-goal lead. Ramsey timed his run to perfection to meet Ollie Watkins’ pass and smashed it past De Gea. In doing so, Ramsey became just the fourth player in Premier League history to score a goal, assist a goal and score an own goal in the same game, after Kevin Davies (December 2008) Wayne Rooney (October 2012) and Gareth Bale (November 2012).
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To say United’s defending has been all over the place would be an understatement. “Man Utd are wide open, full-backs pushing too high and [Victor] Lindelöf isn’t quick enough to be dealing with Ollie Watkins,” former Crystal Palace striker Clinton Morrison noted on BBC Radio 5 Live. “Once Ollie Watkins squares up Lindelof he’s got no chance.” Emery is no magician but what he’s done on short notice is noteworthy (and there should be some cautious optimism). Villa was embarrassed at Newcastle last week. Today the hosts were all over United like a cheap suit.
It’s a tad unfortunate he’ll only have these players for two more games before everything shuts down for the World Cup finals. As for United, who have now lost nine away games in the Premier League in 2022 – the most defeats they’ve suffered in a calendar year since 1989 (12), they have an immediate chance to attain some revenge when both teams reconvene at Old Trafford in a few days’ time for an EFL Cup tie. Ten Hag’s men round off the first half of this unprecedented season with a Fulham trip while Emery seeks back-to-back league wins against a rejuvenated Brighton side on the south coast.