A lethargic Manchester United were put aside 3-1 on Sunday afternoon by a rejuvenated Aston Villa on Unai Emery’s first game as manager of the home side.
It was nothing short of a dream start for The Claret and Blue Army as they welcomed their new boss to Villa Park when Leon Bailey fired Villa in front. The Jamaican acted sharply in the 7th minute as he found space ahead of Lisandro Martinez on the left-hand side before firing a smooth finish across David De Gea.
Things then went from bad to worse for Erik ten Hag’s men as Lucas Dinge placed an unstoppable free-kick into the corner of the net on his preferred left foot in the 11th minute of the game.
United did well to tame the roaring home crowd throughout the remainder of the half, often recycling possession and creating some half-opportunities, with Villa prepared to sit back.
The Reds, lacking the cutting edge, had a stroke of luck as the half approached stoppage time, with a goal-bound Luke Shaw volley deflecting wildly off Jacob Ramsey and into the opposite corner of the net, completely wrong-footing Emiliano Martinez.
Perhaps half-time came at the wrong moment for the away side as they looked to be building momentum for an equaliser, with the half ending 2-1.
Ramsey soon put his error behind him at the start of the second half, firing the ball into the roof of the net following an efficient breakaway to restore his side’s two-goal lead in the 49th minute.
The game fast became a forgettable one for United, who failed to muster up anything decent. Anthony Elanga, Anthony Martial and Tyrell Malacia were all thrown on to inspire a tired team, yet none of them had the impact the manager would have hoped as Villa saw out a morale-boosting 3-1 triumph.
Final Score: Aston Villa 3-1 Manchester United (Bailey 7’, Dinge 11’, Ramsey 49’) (Ramsey 45’ og)
Man of the match
There were more bad performances than good ones from individual players on Sunday afternoon. Casemiro was probably the pick of a bad bunch.
The Brazilian destroyer did what he tends to do in most games; he tracked runners, made tackles, regained possession and progressed the ball efficiently. It was a typical holding midfield showing.
It was just an average game for the 30-year-old, but his average performance was a lot better than those of his peers, sadly.
The bigger picture
After nine games unbeaten and the tally of clean sheets mounting recently, the defeat comes as a big disappointment for supporters.
With that being said, though, lots of fans will not be shocked and many will feel a defeat like that was coming.
Ten Hag has been churning out a very similar team in most games of late, and perhaps the Thursday-Sunday rigor is finally starting to catch up with the consistent performers. Christian Eriksen, Diogo Dalot and Martinez are three examples of players who are playing exceptional amounts of football of late, but the manager clearly thinks he cannot afford to drop them.
The easy solution appears to be rotating the personnel, but the question would then be about who to bring in.
There is no back-up right-back with Aaron Wan-Bissaka out of favour, and the midfield bench options are widely renowned not to be good enough in Scott McTominay and Fred. The forward options are shallow with Antony unfit and Jadon Sancho being ill; Elanga is coming on to turn games around, but the Sweden man surely needs to be on loan at the moment as he simply does not look ready.
People will be quick to get on the back of individual players and why they were the problem, but ultimately this has to be a wider issue of the whole team being weary. Cristiano Ronaldo has not looked great of late, but to be fair to him, he has played four games in around ten days- at least he is fit and available for his side when others are not.
The result leaves United 5th on 23 points behind Spurs (4th on 26 points) and Newcastle (3rd on 27 points).
Bumps in the road were bound to happen and most fans know that. A result like this seemed inevitable; a tired United coming off the back of a midweek game against a rested Villa team at home for the new manager’s first game…
Seemed like quite the banana skin.
Pressure needs to be applied towards the clowns upstairs who want to bypass the upcoming window. Signings are a must in January. If United cannot hack the fixture congestion now, then they will not be able to hack playing three games a week for the next five months after the World Cup!
Next up is a revenge mission for Ten Hag and United as they face Aston Villa again this coming Thursday, 10th November at 20:00 (BST) in the Carabao Cup at Old Trafford.
After that is the final bow before the World Cup, with United taking on Fulham away at Craven Cottage on Sunday, 13th November, kicking off at 16:30 (BST).