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Dublin: 10°C Saturday 17 April 2021


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Good evening all. How are we? I’m a little miffed to tell you the truth. I put together some Premier League talking points with Shaqiri being one of those. But the FA have just released a statement saying he must still serve a one-game domestic ban because of a suspension picked up in Italy. So, he’s ruled out of tomorrow’s clash with Spurs and I have to furiously re-write. First world problems. Anyway, all good where ye are?

Apologies if I’ve already taken the gloss off tonight’s highly-anticipated event with my moaning. Let’s move on and look ahead. It’s Friday night Premier League football. And it’s pretty exciting. We should really get used to it because there’ll be plenty of it from next season onward. Anyway, if you’re still unsure as to why the game is happening tonight, my esteemed colleague Ben Blake put together this neat explainer.


So, the big news is that Adnan Januzaj is handed a start up front for the guests. It’s United’s only change from the team that beat Tottenham last week with Ashley Young dropping to the bench.

Villa are unchanged which means the man who scored their winner against Bournemouth – Rudy Gestede – starts on the bench.

By the way, this is Januzaj’s first start since 11th February. United certainly lacked something in the final third against Spurs – can the Belgian provide something different?


Here are the benches for tonight. United’s is pretty impressive and good to see Paddy McNair continue to be involved after his breakout season last term.

Aston Villa: Bunn, Baker, Hutton, Sanchez, Kozak, Gestede, Richardson.

Manchester United: Hernandez, Young, Herrera, Valencia, Schweinsteiger, McNair, Johnstone.

I wrote this piece on Villa’s 1992/93 season and how they squandered the league title, changing history in the process.

United are looking sharp in their new away strip. A real throwback and it’s a bit of a treat. There’s something special about evening games between these two at Villa Park – there have been some great, classic moments down through the years and here’s hoping we get some more tonight. Minutes away from kick-off.


Bright start from Villa, full of energy in midfield. United still to get any of their key players on the ball. By the way, Depay has pulled to the left side here and Januzaj is in behind Rooney.


Amavi made plenty of ground up the left side for Villa and was brilliantly found by Westwood’s sweeping cross-field ball. Good stuff from the hosts.


Depay tries something fancy and is easily dispossessed before falling to the turf and claiming a free-kick. Where have we seen that before from a United winger?


That’s some excellent defending from Luke Shaw, getting back to challenge Veretout as Villa looked to sneak in down the right channel.


Composed by Smalling who flicks his header back to Romero. Before that, Januzaj looked to break through and felt he was taken down. But play continued and Villa tried to go direct quickly.


Rooney drops deep to pick the ball up and Mata makes a run into the channel. Awful pas from the attacker and the move fizzles out. Villa hungrier and full of energy here.


All very static from United’s attack so far. Mata’s seen a lot of the ball on the right but very telegraphed when he drops inside onto his left to play a pass. Overhits a cross to Depay but United have a decent free-kick now after a poor challenge from Richards.


CHANCE! Depay whips in the set-piece with great pace and Villa are all over the place at the back. It bounces off the turf and Schneiderlin arrives but can’t get behind it and skews well wide. Always struggling to properly get on the end of it but a half-chance for the guests.


Januzaj is knocked off the ball too easily and is still complaining to the referee when an attempted Villa clearance rebounds back towards their own goal and Depay is on it in a flash. But Brad Guzan is off his line quickly and gets there just before United’s summer signing, timing his sliding challenge to perfection.


Jordan Ayew is sniffing around the edge of the area and conjures a superb Cruyff turn, fooling two United players who hit the deck trying to challenge. He looks to play a neat through-ball but United clear.


Villa have been really energetic in the first 25 minutes, closing down United very quickly and making life tough for the guests. But, that’s dropped a little bit in the last few minutes and Januzaj almost gets Depay in with a clever ball over the top. The Dutchman has been making plenty of intelligent runs from this wide area and Villa need to keep a close eye on that.


Well, what about that change from van Gaal? It’s a brilliant pass from Juan Mata, who came over to the left side. He threads it into the left channel for Januzaj who times his run superbly. He cuts inside and leaves Richards on his backside before slotting it wide of Guzan and it kisses the inside of the post before nestling in the net.


Here’s that Januzaj goal, by the way.


Some of you on certain devices may not be able to see the previous update so here it is again (apologies Villa fans).

Source: 442Vines/Vine


Villa are here for the taking if United want it. Right now, they seem to be going through the motions. Some cheap giveaways in the last few moments from Smalling and Carrick and it’s sloppy to see. Villa have a corner here after United cough up possession in a dangerous area. Silly stuff.


And from that corner, Richards gets up and can’t quite get high enough to put the header on target. Darmian was pulling his shirt and could’ve been called on it. Lucky boy.


Good grief. United need a kick up the backside here. This time, Romero overcooks a pas and puts Carrick in trouble but Villa can’t properly capitalise. But since the goal, United have just rested on their laurels and surrendered possession far too many times. They’ll get a bit of a hiding from van Gaal, I’m sure. 5 minutes until the break.


That’s better from Villa who engineer a good position on the right side but the cross is poor and Romero easily gathers.


That wasn’t very enjoyable but I’m sure United won’t care. They spent the early part of that half on the back-foot and struggling to get any sort of rhythm going because of Villa’s energy and pressing. But that all subsided and gaps started to appear. On the half hour, Januzaj popped up and was superbly picked out by Mata. He kept his composure in the area, left Richards in a heap on the ground before tucking it inside the far post.

But United were awful for the remainder of the half, cheaply surrendering possession instead of turning up the pressure and going after a weakened and hurting Villa.

United’s defence has been solid and not allowed too much but they need to keep the ball a lot better.

Rooney has been beyond poor and has offered nothing. Worrying if he’s supposed to be United’s leading light in attack this season.


CHANCE! Mata is sloppy on the ball and Ayew picks it up, charging towards goal. He cuts inside Smalling and has a pop at goal but it never troubles Romero and fizzes wide. Decent chance though.   


On Sky, Gary Neville isn’t too impressed with Villa’s system under Sherwood, with both centre backs pulling wide and the fullbacks pushed high. ‘We might see it in August but not in November’, he says.


Amavi does brilliantly down the left side and races into the left channel. Chris Smalling has to come across to try and snuff out the danger but can’t close down and the cross is a superb one. There’s no Villa player on the end of it though and it whips right across the six-yard area.


CLOSE! More pressure from Villa as Agbonlahor wins a corner off Darmian. From the delivery, Agbonlahor rises highest and puts the header on target bur Romero makes a comfortable save.


Luke Shaw does well to make a challenge as Gana is about to pull the trigger. It’s just like the first 20 minutes of the opening period when Villa were really intense and much the better side.


SUBSTITUTION! Gestede (on) – Sinclair (off)

A bit strange. We all knew Gestede was going to come on at some stage but Sinclair had looked lively since the restart and had opened the game up down that left side with Amavi and Ayew.


SUBSTITUTIONS! Herrera & Schweinsteiger (on) – Januzaj & Carrick (off)

United are going to change systems here and go to a straight 4-3-3, I think. Van Gaal clearly not happy with how poor United’s midfield has been and how poor the ball retention is. Hoping that will change with these substitutions.


United already look far better with Herrera on the pitch. He’s won them a corner here but it’s easy for Guzan who plucks it out of the sky. So, for all interested, Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin are a double-pivot in midfield with Herrera slightly further forward.


Depay has barely featured for United since the second half got underway and United need to engineer some good play in the final third. They need some insurance here.


That’s better. A bit of fight from Schneiderlin keeps the ball alive and Darmian gets the cross in that’s a difficult one for Guzan. United force a corner and quickly get another one that Guzan punches clear.


Shaw gets his head up and heads for the area – good, direct running. He’s hauled down and this is the same pattern as the first half. Villa unable to keep their energy up and United are finding more space here. Free-kick in a good position.


And Depay, using the technique that Ronaldo made famous, blazes his effort into row Z. They either go very right or very wrong. A fine line.


BOOKING! That’s not very nice to see, to be honest. Jordan Ayew flings himself to the ground, desperately seeking a free-kick. He just ends up looking a fool as he gets booked.


VERY CLOSE! It should be all over. Mata threads a pass through for Depay who times his run brilliantly, takes the ball in his stride, opens up his body, sends it wide of Guzan…and wide of the far post. A great chance to get his first for the club. That’s a huge opportunity to wrap it up.


BOOKING! Herrera also goes in the book and everything is getting a bit scrappy here.


Depay has a snapshot that is easily gathered by Guzan – good chance as he picked it up on the edge of the box with some space. He went low to the keeper’s near post but the American read it well.


SUBSTITUTION! Sanchez (on) – Veretout (off)

10 mins to go and some extra height in there now for Villa. We now how this finale will play out!


SUBSTITUTION! Young (on) – Depay (off)

The boos ring out as the former Villa man enters the fray. United want to see this out but should really be 2-0 up and easing to victory.


Every cloud, etc.


Matteo Darmian has been excellent this evening though he was fortunate not to concede a penalty in the first half. He’s done well to get a foot in as Villa looked to get through on goal.


Gary Neville has given the Man of the Match award to Daley Blind tonight and the entire United rearguard has been impressive – certainly the best thing about the team’s performance this evening.

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AND THAT’S IT! Well, the wait continues for Villa here. For United it’s a 100% start and they go top.


Well, hardly earth-shattering from United but they get the job done again. Possession was poor for the majority of the game with too many giveaways while with Wayne Rooney conjuring one of his worst ever displays in a United shirt, they failed to create much up front.

Memphis Depay continues to show some promise and really should’ve wrapped things up in the second half when Juan Mata played him through. But he failed to hit the target, pushing his strike wide of the far post with Guzan beaten.

For Villa, the second half was a replica of their first half performance – good pressing and then they wilted, allowing United take control. They failed to properly create any decent chance and Sergio Romero was untroubled and is yet to be properly tested in his first two games.

Thanks for staying with us. More reaction coming up on the site later on.

About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan