Manchester United left Villa Park with a win in a game that exploded into life as half time approached. A game in which Lambert was initially the more tactically astute manager but his side were unable to hold onto their lead with Ferguson, as he has so often done, making a very useful substitution to alter the dynamic of the game.
Paul Lambert made one change to the side which had defeated Sunderland away. With Bennett out, Enda Stevens came in for his Premier League debut at full back.
The entire Aston Villa starting eleven were all under the age of 30 with seven players starting under the age of 23.
Manchester United made two changes to the side which defeated Arsenal last week. With Evans out injured, Smalling made his first Premier League start of the season. In midfield, Scholes made his first start after five games on the sidelines with Cleverly making way.
Possession vs Counter Attack
This game saw a classic battle between one team content to sit deep and break on the counter attack and another side who wanted to control possession and set the tempo of the game.
Manchester United dominated possession throughout but early on their passing lacked any sort of urgency and was quite often sloppy. The play was taking place in front of Aston Villa with little movement in behind the Villa defence.
The team were too content to play centrally and their play generally lacked width. With Young cutting in from the left and Evra not really offering a consistent threat on the left, it was incumbent upon Valencia and Rafael to provide width on the right. When they received the ball, both sought to do so with Rafael’s overlapping runs enabling him to get in behind the Villa defence to provide crosses. This occurred infrequently though and generally Villa stopped their opponent from playing through the middle and were relatively untroubled by Manchester United.
It was telling that in the first half, neither Rooney or Van Persie were really involved for Manchester United. Both were well marshalled by the Villa defence. Part of the issue was that neither would attempting runs in behind the Villa rearguard. Both are comfortable coming short to link play. Recognising the need for an alternative dimension in attack, Ferguson brought on Hernandez for Young at half time.
The reorganised Man Utd line up saw Hernandez as the central striker with Van Persie behind and Rooney on the left although there was scope for the latter pairing to alternate positions.
From Villa’s perspective, The defence and midfield combined well to limit United opportunities. This was a major test for such an inexperienced side and the two full backs generally coped well. The attacking trio of Ireland, Benteke and Weimann were providing Manchester United with problems on the break and their play could have created more scoring opportunities for Villa had it not been for wrong pass selection or misplaced passes. Villa’s first attempt on goal did not arrive until the 35th minute.
The home side passed the ball well enough but probably allowed Man Utd too much possession. The physical demands of pursuing an opponent with the ball for long periods may have played a role in Villa’s struggles late on.
Part of the issue for United is that Ferguson favours a combination of a passer and a runner as his midfield pairing. With Anderson out of sorts and Fletcher still coming back to full fitness following a prolonged illness, his central options are limited. It meant that the side started against Villa with two passers in Carrick and Scholes. The pairing coped well against Villa’s midfield three with Rooney moving deeper on occasion to level the numerical battle.
A combination of two passers can lead to problems against more aggressive sides who press and play in the midfield area at a high tempo. Villa did not do this preferring to sit off Man Utd and only press when they entered Villa territory.
Villa instead sought to counter attack at pace and often through the centre of the pitch with Carrick and Scholes both caught ahead of the ball. Neither is particularly fast and it enabled Villa to create chances, two of which resulted in their goals both of which were scored by Wiemann.
The opening goal arrived when Man Utd lost possession at the edge of the Villa penalty area. Both Scholes and Carrick were participating in the attack and were immediately caught wrong side of the ball.
The ball was played wide right to Benteke who was perhaps a little fortunate in initially getting the break of the ball of Smalling which enable him to control it. Thereafter Benteke displayed his strength to bully Smalling at the goal line before cutting the ball back for the on rushing Weimann to score.
The graphic above shows Carrick and Scholes both caught ahead of the ball and unable to get back in time to catch Weimann.
The second Villa goal highlighted the lack of defensive cover from Man Utd’s midfield again. Scholes initially gave away possession in the build up. The graphic below shows a clear picture or four Aston Villa players attacking four Manchester United players. Both Carrick and Scholes are too high and have been bypassed in this phase of play.
Weimann converted the low cross / shot from Agbonlahor to give Villa a 2-0 lead in the 49th minute.
Next Page: Manchester United Comeback strong – Hernandez changes game (click on page number below).
Manchester United Comeback
The only surprise about the Manchester United comeback was that it is not in the least bit surprising. United have frequently conceded the first goal this season and been forced to rescue games. Incredibly, the Old Trafford club have won 15 points from losing positions this season. How many times this can be replicated though, remains to be seen. As entertaining as it is for the neutral, I doubt many United fans enjoy such open games.
It has often been said that 2-0 is a precarious lead. Do you stick or twist? Villa never really had any time to think about their dilemma. They held a two goal advantage for just eight minutes. A quick free kick was taken deep in Manchester United territory and Scholes floated the ball over the Villa defence for Hernandez to run off the shoulder of the last defender and eventually slot the ball home. The goal would not have been possible in the first half and showcased the qualities that the Mexican possesses’ particularly when the defence try to hold a high defensive line.
The equalising goal soon followed with Hernandez converting with the aid of a deflection off Vlaar. The build up took advantage of the width that was often lacking. Agbonlahor was drawn too central and Rafael made a great overlapping run, delivering an excellent cross to the back post.
As the game progressed, it was increasingly stretched with Manchester United still dominating possession but not truly in control of the game. Villa remained a threat on the counter attack. Van Persie struck the crossbar twice in quick succession, his first real involvement in the game whilst De Gea saved superbly from Weimann.
The visitors were certainly more threatening when they played at a higher tempo but the midfield duo of Carrick and Scholes seemed unable to match the exertions of the players around them. They were playing at a lesser pace than their team mates.
Neither team seemed completely in control of the game although Manchester United were the most authoritative side albeit with a sense of defensive frailty.
Hernandez scored the winner in the 88th minute, stooping to head home a free kick. Two points may cause Lambert some disappointment here. The ease with which Villa lost possession and needlessly ave away a cheap free kick and the non-existent marking in the penalty area.
For Lambert and Villa fans there are signs of development particularly with the faith shown in young players to date. Paul Lambert will be aware of the scale of the challenge he faces. There are many positive points which he can take form this fixture even if they ultimately failed to secure any points but they remain perilously close to the relegation zone with some tough fixtures on the horizon.
The win enables Manchester United to move clear at the top of the Premiership with daylight between themselves and Man city and Chelsea . An important gap even at this stage of the season. For all of their attacking quality, Manchester United still look unstable defensively and the ease with which Villa bypassed their midfield at times needs to be addressed.