MANCHESTER UNITED vs ASTON VILLA
After a great win in East London to reach the semi-final of the FA Cup United returned to league action with a home game against almost relegated Aston Villa. A win was a must to keep the pressure on Manchester City in the push for fourth place.
In: Valencia, Schneiderlin, Rooney, Mata and Memphis.
Out: Fosu-Mensah, Carrick, Martial, Herrera and Lingard.
- This was a disappointing performance, United did just enough to win and one was left with a sour taste in the mouth given how poor Aston Villa have been this season. One just expected United to blow Villa away, but they never got round to it.
- Rooney started his first game after his injury lay-off and operating in a midfield role he played well. He provided some drive from deep and several excellent long diagonal passes to switch play, one of which lead directly to the goal.
- United played one defensive midfield player in Morgan Schneiderlin as they went 4-1-4-1; this has been a rarity this season but something we have seen more of in recent weeks. It didn’t lead to more attacking midfield verve here bit it was still generally good to see.
- Marcus Rashford continues to excel.
- Memphis has had a difficult first season at United. He worked hard but things didn’t really come off for him. Let’s hope this has just been a case of settling into United, life in the Premier league and life in England.
Was this a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1 to start the game? On balance it looked more like a 4-1-4-1 with Schneiderlin in the defensive midfield position and Fellaini and Rooney further forward. So Rashford retained the centre forward role with Rooney behind him. Mata started on the right and Memphis on the left. Villa set up as a 4-2-3-1 and attempted to press Schneiderlin.
United’s first half shape with the return to action of Wayne Rooney
The tempo of United’s play was far too slow at the beginning of the match and in truth only improved for short passages of play during the whole match. With Villa posing very little threat for much of the match United really needed to do more. Schneiderlin found it difficult to find space so most of United’s moves started from Blind who looked to run ten yards forward before feeding a pass forward. Rooney dropped deep and often collected the ball in the deep on the left before turning to move forward with the ball or pass forward. Rooney often looked to switch play and stretch the game by playing longer passes behind Villa for Rashford to chase down. This worked to an extent in that it pushed Villa back and they conceded a number of corners but Rashford rarely collected possession in areas where he could hurt the opposition. Fellaini alongside Rooney worked to break up any Villa possession but didn’t create anything.
United were dominating possession without hurting Aston Villa, mostly because the tempo of their play was slow but also because their passing and movement did not stretch the visitors. They always seemed to take the safe passing option. As the half wore on Mata and Memphis both began to move inside making United’s shape more like a 4-1-2-2-1. This movement meant that there was space in wide areas for the full backs Rojo and Valencia to push into. On the left Rojo rarely took the opportunity to do so but with Rooney and Blind both playing on that side and both tending to be the United players more likely to pass forward their tended to be less space on that side. On the right there was space for Valencia to exploit. Perhaps this was why Rooney regularly looked to switch play and this lead to United’s goal.
Rooney won and took a quick free kick deep on the left. This was a great pass which picked out Valencia on the right touchline. He controlled the ball and ran a few yards inside before picking out Rashford with a low cross. It felt like Valencia had taken too long to deliver the cross but it was a perfect pass, as was Rashford feint and movement in the middle. He simple passed the ball past an unsighted Guzan in the Villa goal. Boom! 1-0 32 minutes played.
Not a lot changed after the goal. Unitd continued to dominate possession and play a measured game without really hurting Villa. As a consequence the score was 1-0 at half-time.
Not a lot changed at the start of the second half either. United did create a couple of opportunities but undermined themselves by either not shooting when they had the opportunity to do so or not attacking a ball delivered from wide areas into the box.
So after 64 minutes Van Gaal made his first change removing Rooney and introducing Lingard. Perhaps this was inevitable given that this was Rooney’s first game back and Rooney’s influence on the game had declined. Was he tiring? The change saw a slight change in shape with Lingard playing further forward United now looked more like a 4-2-3-1. Fellaini was deeper alongside Schneiderlin. United were no more adventurous and no more effective however.
United’s shape late in the game and ex-City player Lescott resigned to relegation
There was a further substitution on 76 minutes when Martial replaced Rashford but this too did not really change anything. Then Villa made a change on 82 minutes replacing Kieron Richardson with Gestede. Villa of course would be relegated if they lost this game so they had to do something and with United still in second gear they now looked a little more lively, or at least Gestede did. Villa had a couple of late chances including a situation where they hit the post. United didn’t seem to respond to this liveliness, almost as if they has become so complacent because of Villa’s earlier lack of threat that they had gone to sleep. That sort of tells the story of the whole match. Villa posed little threat and United found it so easy to control the game that their play lacked any urgency.
In the last couple of minutes Van Gaal replaced Mata with Fosu-Mensah as United ran down the clock.
A win is a win, but this was a disappointing performance with United never really getting out of second gear. In fact as the game wore on United regressed to Aston Villa’s level. Ultimately the visitors were relegated by this result so that isn’t a good thing.
The point is that United had most of the ball but their play was fairly slow and cautious; they never really forced things, they never really took risks and so they never really grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. One goal was enough and it was a well worked effort made by a wonderful cross field pass by Rooney, controlled and centered by Valencia and well finished by Rashford. The goal stood out from the general standard of the play.