Football Features

Man Utd 2-2 Aston Villa: Five things learned as lack of in-game management costs Solskjaer

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 18:40, 1 December 2019

For the second week running, Manchester United snatched a draw from the jaws of victory despite at one point trailing.

Aston Villa, like Sheffield United on matchday 13, can rue two dropped points even if they are content with grabbing one when certain defeat looked to be on the cards.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will no doubt come under even more scrutiny as the Red Devils missed another opportunity to claw back points in their race for a top six finish.

As for Villa, who now sit three points above the bottom three, it’s a point that could go a long way in staving off relegation back to the Championship.

With the dust beginning to settle, here are five things we learned from this encounter.

1. Can’t knock a good man down

There’s no question which Villa player Man Utd earmarked as their biggest threat. Heading into this Old Trafford showdown, Jack Grealish had carried the ball further than any other Premier League player (3441 metres), and from this, he’s created 17 chances, more than anyone in the competition. So, armed with that piece of knowledge, it comes as no surprise they were prepared to keep the would-be England international in check.

And the first challenge/foul came after 60 seconds – extending his record of being the most fouled player in England’s top division this season which, after this game, now stands at 53 fouls won (his ability to draw fouls is an art unto itself). But if the Red Devils felt they had got the better of him, think again, in the 11th minute Grealish produced arguably the goal of this weekend. A perfectly executed curling effort, right in front of the Stretford End, that David de Gea could do nothing about. For a while now, he’s threatened to reach the next level, that day might not be far away.

2. Mata ineffectual

Juan Mata’s inclusion in Man Utd’s starting line-up no doubt raised a few eyebrows. Not because of his quality, despite being 31 he can still do a job, but rather he’s seldom appeared for the Red Devils this season. Across United’s last five league outings he was an unused substitute, with his last two starts coming in away defeats at Newcastle and West Ham. Naturally for supporters, this felt like a bad omen.

As great as Mata, was he couldn’t impose himself on this game; playing as the deep-lying forward, just behind Man Utd’s lone striker Anthony Martial, the former Spain international created one chance and touched the ball fewer times than anyone in United’s front four before he was taken off for Jesse Lingard with just over 15 minutes remaining.

3. You can always count on Rashford

If anyone was to get Man Utd back into this game, it was always going to be Marcus Rashford, because he seems to be the one player under Solskjaer this season playing around his usual standards. With three minutes of the first half remaining, he nodded in a delightful Andreas Pereira cross, but it would strike the post before coming off Tom Heaton’s back to go down as an own goal.

Despite being robbed, the fact Rashford was there is encouraging – a lot has been made of his game intelligence (or lack thereof), but on today’s showing at least, the Mancunian forward answered those critics. It’s easy to forget he recently turned 22, that’s not an excuse given the amount of games already played means Rashford is no rookie, but it’s way too early to write him off as there’s still room for growth.

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4. Speaking of

It goes without saying that Man Utd are a far cry from the side which dominated English football like nobody’s business. For the second consecutive weekend, the record 20-time champions temporarily snatched three points from the jaws of defeat but couldn’t hold on. The moment Victor Lindelöf put them ahead, through a powerful header, you expected Solskjaer’s men to see this game out.

But… this is the 2019 version and before those celebrations could even die down, Villa centre-back Tyrone Mings levelled proceedings. More damaging than conceding another goal was the Red Devils’ lack of in-game management – as we alluded to regarding Rashford – with a host of players standing around and Brandon Williams keeping Mings onside. An embarrassing moment in a season littered with many.

5. Training ground awaits

There are so many things Dean Smith can take from this game. For one, he can be proud of his side’s efforts, but if the West Bromwich-born tactician is a perfectionist then conceding another goal from a set piece would have got him tearing his hair out. If we exclude penalties then no Premier League side been weaker in this area.

Lindelöf’s goal was the ninth time Villa conceded in such a manner and given John Terry is part of his backroom staff, this must be infuriating for Smith, especially as these efforts can be avoided. It’s one thing to concede via a swift break in open play, but defending corners and free-kicks alike should be bread and butter stuff.