Bruno Fernandes penalty sees Manchester United edge Aston Villa and go level at the top

Manchester United celebrates Fernandes’ penalty

Villa are a very good side – more than the sum of their parts, more than just Jack Grealish – but even when they found ways to get on top of United, they could not stay there. There were two minutes between Traoré’s equaliser and Douglas Luiz’s foul on Paul Pogba for the penalty, while everything they threw at David de Gea’s goal late on was denied.

If there were any heavy heads still suffering from the night before, both sides hid it well. The game started at a terrific pace and though this did not necessarily translate into an early glut of goal-scoring chances, it was a welcome change from the rather sedate contests in the top flight over the past few days.

Independent Football Newsletter

Get the latest football headlines direct to your inbox twice a week

Read our full mailing list consent terms here

Independent Football Newsletter

Get the latest football headlines direct to your inbox twice a week

Read our full mailing list consent terms here

Martial and Fernandes both forced goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez into saves early on, while De Gea had to be alert to push away a John McGinn volley which threatened to creep in at the far post. Villa threatened down the flanks but United always looked more likely to find a breakthrough, with Paul Pogba particularly influential on the left-hand side of a midfield diamond.

No player took more touches, played more passes in the opposition’s half or had more shots on goal during the first half but it was his part in the goal that was most memorable. Collecting a loose ball under pressure in the middle of the park, Pogba turned away from Luiz, flicked the ball over McGinn’s head, spun around and nodded it into Marcus Rashford’s path to set off a counter-attack.

It was a brilliant piece of midfield play but there was even more to like about the goal from a United perspective, too. Rashford’s flick around the corner to meet the run of Aaron Wan-Bissaka was just as delightful. Wan-Bissaka’s attacking output is regularly criticised and he can seem hesitant in the final third but shook any apprehensions off this time, crossing for Martial.

Anthony Martial’s header gave United the lead

His cute header from a predatory position on the edge of the six-yard box is exactly the type of goal that Solskjaer wants to see more often from his first-choice centre-forward. Edinson Cavani’s three-game ban may be a blessing in disguise for United if it allows Martial to build on an upturn in form which has produced three goals in his last six games after a long barren spell.

United deserved the lead but should have been better prepared for Villa’s response. Matty Cash, Ollie Watkins and Anwar El Ghazi all went close before parity was briefly restored. Wan-Bissaka was more concerned with standing on McGinn’s free-kick than getting back into position for it. Even then he failed to prevent McGinn from taking it quickly and releasing Grealish, who centred for the unmarked Traoré to finish.

Having seen his players work so hard to draw level, Smith was soon frustrated to see all that effort squandered. The penalty decision was contentious, with contact between Luiz and Pogba minimal at best, but the Villa midfielder’s attempts to win the ball could be described as clumsy at best. Martinez guessed correctly and went the right way but Fernandes is near-faultless from the penalty spot.

The closing stages would have been more comfortable for United had Martinez not tipped a Fernandes effort from distance onto the top of the crossbar. Instead, a De Gea save and Eric Bailly block were required to deny Cash and substitute Keinan Davis in stoppage time. When the final whistle sounded, the United players mobbed Bailly to thank him for his intervention, as if aware of just how important these three points could ultimately be.

This weekend get a £10 free bet with Betfair, when you bet £10 on a Same Game Multi on the Premier League. Terms: Min £10 Same Game Multi bet on any EPL match this Fri – Sun. Free bet valid for 72 hours, awarded at bet settlement. Excludes cashed out bets. T&Cs apply.

Source: Read Full Article