Manchester United Hold Off Aston Villa To Stay Top


This weekend’s premier match, Manchester United hosting Aston Villa, was seemingly alight with some very sensitive microphones.  I’m not sure if the press box was the culprit, or perhaps those huge foam-covered ones on the touchlines, but you could hear shouts of “Don’t foul him” and “C’mon Jonny”, the latter directed to United’s fill-in centerback, who was given a bit of trouble by Villa today.  If only it was the press box, because the sound of journos hitting the backspace key would have been deafening, particularly after Ronaldo scored his and United’s second goal of the match.

In the 60th minute, it looked to be yet another stumble for the reigning champions.  Three losses in a row for Alex Ferguson?  About as rare as a Liverpool Premiership trophy, at least so it seemed until the last few weeks.  It was bound to happen, one thought, and if so, this would be the game.

Without Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes, to call the side depleted would be an understatement for the Red Devils.  Danny Welbeck may have seen some time on the pitch, but 17-year old Federico Macheda’s inclusion on the bench spoke to such thinness after the international break.

Shifting Gary Neville to partner Evans in the center may have kept him from the terror of marking Ashley Young, but the knock-laden veteran looked less than dominant, and you had to wonder just how costly Vidic and Rooney’s suspensions would prove to be, especially after Villa went ahead.  Carlos Tevez was the requisite workhorse, and Ryan Giggs was the typical class act on the ball;  it was less the worry that United had enough in them to get past Aston Villa, but the realization that the makeshift backline may not last against the speed and directness of the visitors .

Ronaldo started off the scoring 14 minutes in, with cracker into Brad Friedel’s far corner off of a rolled Ryan Giggs free kick.  The beauty of such a goal was quickly forgotten fifteen minutes later, as Villa equalized with a John Carew header.  If you hadn’t been paying attention, you certainly were now.  Aston Villa’s second goal in the 58th minute, coming off of a Ronaldo dispossession, made the United backline look anemic, with Carew crossing in for a wide-open Gabriel Agbonglahor header at the far post.

From there, you began to ponder the headlines, because despite possession, it was an open enough game to see United dropping even more points.  But Ferguson threw on Macheda, like that relative unknown reserve striker that goes to the World Cup because, well, why not?  And that move will be big enough for pundits and United fans to place all their plaudits upon.  Like a high school football coach making changes at halftime, this was where one’s money is earned, and without any of the Phil Brownesque machinations.

Ronaldo’s second goal was perhaps better than his first.  Muscled off the ball and flopping down, the Portuguese winger actually picked himself up and put himself in a good position to receive the ball as it pinged around the edge of the Aston Villa box.  How he had so much time to line up his precise roller past Friedel just inside his left post made Villa look tired, and the momentum was given to United in the 80th, and it looked to be long quarter of an hour left for the visitors.

Macheda’s goal came in extra time, after a prolonged assault by the Red Devils.  With his back to goal, he gestured to Giggs to play it to his feet, sent his defender the wrong way with a backheel into space and squeezed off a shot that curled past Freidel at the far post as he fell onto his back.

There wasn’t much to say after that, only wistful empathy for Aston Villa and sheer bewilderment at whatever it was that turned the tide for Manchester United. Be it luck, the experience and calm needed to manufacture goals from behind, or the inspired substitutions of Alex Ferguson, or perhaps all of these, but United certainly eked one out with high drama.  Kind of like Liverpool’s win yesterday.

The shot of the sobbing Manchester United fan will be seen hundreds of times to illustrate the meaning of this weekend, especially when you watch a match like this.  Emotionally battered, he could barely control his tears, almost in disbelief that his team pulled it out.  I’m sure many a Liverpool fan can relate.

[Goal, Bleacher Report]

Manchester 3-2 Aston Villa [BBC Football]

17 thoughts on “Manchester United Hold Off Aston Villa To Stay Top”

  1. Don’t let a goal from a 17 year old sub fool you one little bit. United have quality… but they’re in trouble. The ease with which they were opened up at home will still play on their minds once the euphoria of that last minute goal fades.

    A team higher on confidence than Villa would probably take more of those chances.

    And there are plenty of those teams yet to play.

    Game on.

  2. Settle down, Gee. A backline without Rio and Vidic was always likely to struggle. They’ll both be back against Sunderland next weekend.

  3. Teams on higher confidence?

    Everton at Home Tricky….but at home
    City??? traveling across the city is still City away from home!
    Relegated Hull????????

    Confidence is oooozing from this lot!!

    Today’s third goal was a name on the trophy moment…end of!

  4. Long story short, Aston Villa handed the title to United today.

    After going up 2-1, heroically, O’Neill should have sent his team into a defensive mode. Instead he stuck with the counter-attacking style which left them open to a more favorable run of play for United.

    Friedel reacted very slowly to Ronaldo’s second goal. He looked like he belonged in the North American USL. As for Carew – why was he dribbling into coverage every chance he got?

    That was the worst 15 minutes of football played by Villa this season – and I am including their 5-0 loss to Liverpool in that statement. At least Liverpool created their own chances and capitalized… Villa made the chances for United.

  5. That sobbing Man U fan was Macheda’s father. They showed him smiling when he was subbed in and he is the one Macheda runs off the pitch to celebrate with. I’d be sobbing too.

    What a moment. Man U fan or not, it’s pretty neat to witness two people experiencing the absolute best moment of their lives.

  6. I just noticed watching the celebration after Macheda’s goal. I agree, Rod; whether you’re a United fan or not, and even if the kid never scores another goal, one of the finest moments of the season in my opinion

  7. i’m with Dano—i do believe martin o’neill absolutely has cause to bitch about the advantages that the referees and linesmen give United week after week. However, I couldn’t believe my eyes when he kept playing his men forward instead of sitting back to defend. When you’re a goal ahead at old trafford with 10 minutes to go, you don’t push your luck trying to get another—which is exactly what villa were going for. I was waiting for the equalizer, as it was obvious that it would come sooner or later. Even after that equalizer Villa’s frontmen continued to drive (with no sense of form or control) into united’s backline. punching it forward was all neville and co had to do, the winner was sure to come…and it did!

    every sport has a team that seem to get all the advantages and breaks. kobe and the lakers get everything their way (the NBA have made it too obvious they want a Kobe-LeBron Finals)…A-Hole and the yankees get every close call…manchester united are practically ushered to the top of the table with the decisions that go their way (not to mention what the referees “don’t see” against united!) —how many times has ronaldo fallen to ground, not gotten a call, and kicked out?? if you’re going by the number of times a free kick has gone against him for it, you’d be mistaken. As a fan of the sport, it is disappointing to see the EPL stooping to the low level of other (corporate) sports. These days it’s all about TV ratings and money—sponsorship deals and whatnot. I hate to see this, as it makes the games somewhat predictable—i think mike reilly’s instructions before the match must have read, “call the game for a united win, don’t worry if it’s totally obvious.”

    sorry, but i had to vent somewhere

  8. As a Liverpool fan, this was disappointing. I have to say it’s still far from over, but this would have been a wonderful game for Utd to flounder on. Of course it’s still very much Utd’s title to lose, but even they win it, at least season would have shown all the other teams that the Mancs are far from invincible. Maybe they’ll put up more of a fight next season instead of lying down and waiting for the OT boys to walk all over them. That would give Utd more of a test, the same kind of stubborn test that Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal face week in week out. Come on, Ronaldo, Rooney, Vidic? These guys aren’t world-beaters by far. There have been way better teams. Ok, 11 Mancs plus the Ref might be a formidable proposition, but it’s still possible to beat them. Savour this season, Mancs, cos if you don’t buck up you’re out.

  9. To be fair most teams are higher on confidence than Villa! 😀 But I was particularly thinking of Arsenal, Everton, Spurs and City.

    Two draws from your 8 remaining games… that’s all it could take….

    Unfortunately you can never rely on Spurs or Villa to do anything right against your lot… but here’s hoping!

    And maybe you should consider keeping your new back four… after all, they did interrupt a run of defeats for you. 😉 x.

  10. By the way… the moment of the match, for me, wasn’t Macheda’s goal – good as it was. No… it was the moment when Ronaldo dived to the floor rolled, around in apparant pain then jumped to his feet when he realised United still had the ball and sprinted forward to score the equaliser.

    In that one moment it summed up that player entirely. Talented scumbag.


  11. I’m glad that gee noticed that too… Ronaldo dives to the ground without need, rolls around for a bit, then realizes that his team are on a break. At this time, he amazingly recovered and was on full sprint to the goal. This is Ronaldo in a nutshell.

    As far as the game goes, it was a disappointing one for me. This may have been the game that basically does it. Dropping 2 points here would have really put them on the run. For me, the only remaining games for them to possibly drop points is Spurs, City, and Arsenal… and let’s be serious here… the only real game they may drop is Arsenal. That’s just not going to be enough.

    Fingers crossed, though. 😉

  12. The finish from Macheda was good, but the defending leading up to it was atrocious the defender marking him should never have let move inside to let him have the whole goal to aim at.

  13. United are weak, the ref is on their side, other teams lie down for them, Ronaldo is a diver, give me a break… United has won over the last few years because they are a superior side. End of story.

    United was missing 8 players yesterday. Of course Gary Neville and Jonny Evans looked suspect in central defense- one is a 5 foot nothing and 40 years old and the other is a utility player that is used to playng 2 or 3 meaningless matches a year. Both of the goals that United gave up were hideous, but neither would’ve happened if Rio or Vidic were policing the box. I’d like to see how your team defends when 3 of its 4 best defenders are out.

    Does Ronaldo dive? Sometimes, though no more than Gerrard or Lampard or Torres do. Does Ronaldo get hacked to bits by less-talented players? All game, every game. Don’t get me wrong – I wish diving coupld be eliminated from the gme, but hacking should be controlled as well. Until that happens, if he gets a call every now and then I’d say he earned it.

    The claim that teams play harder against Pool or Chelsea than they do against United is ridiculous. If anything, lesser teams tend to park the team bus in front of the net and resort to hack and slash football tactics. If you know anything about football, this generally makes it more difficult for United to get full points.

    With the relegation battle heating up, anyone from 10th place to 20th place is probably going to play that way against ANY of the top teams. Villa went on the attack in yesterday’s game because they sit/sat 5th and desperately wanted to keep pace with Arsenal – and because they knew United were vulnerable due to injuries.

    Sorry, I had to vent too – why don’t you all stop hating, quit the whining, and win something so I can complain about your team?

  14. It’s tough to see the result as nothing more than a bit of luck and unfortunately, a collapse on Villa’s part. United’s skeleton squad and players tired from int’l play gifted Villa their goals. One could say you better get as many as you can against United, but with 30 minutes left, you should be able to keep at least that third goal out. As an opposite example, (while overlooked because of Yossi Benayoun’s late winner) Fulham’s resistance for 90 minutes is just another example of Roy Hodgson’s organization and tactics.

    Ronaldo’s more of a punk than a scumbag; he’s going to try and get what he can for an opportunity. The brave Englishmen John Terry and Stevie G have hit the deck prematurely before, just not several times a game. As much as I hate it when he whines like a baby, arms flapping about, I’d take him over a slow and ordinary “man of honor” any day. It’s guile that makes a player special, and hopefully Ronaldo tempers the machinations as he ages.

  15. Those other players play the ball first and look for a foul as an afterthought. With Ronlado it seems to be more than often the opposite. Ronlado is a diver. End of story. 😉

    Not sure I agree with the rest (refs against them, teams not playing hard, etc).

  16. Gaz, I respectfully disagree. Ronaldo’s transgressions get extra attention for a number of reasons, but he’s no better or worse than any of the other players I mentioned. They ALL do it. Does Ronaldo hit the turf more often than most? Yes. Does he also get fouled more often than any other player in the league? Without a doubt. And really, hacking your opponent’s best player every time he touches the ball isn’t exactly honorable either – fair play goes both ways.

    I think we all need to come to terms with the fact that diving is a part of the game. We don’t have to like it, but unless FIFA, the FAs and the referees decide to ACTUALLY do something about it, it’s here to stay.

    With the amount of money and prestige at stake and the impact that a single posession can have on a season or tournament, teams and players will do almost anything to gain an advantage.

    I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating diving (CR’s or anyone else’s). I’m only stating the obvious. If you see that diving gives your team an advantage and there isn’t any penalty for trying (aside from very rare verbal warnings and even rarer yellow cards), what incentive do you have to play fair?

    I also find it interesting that people have an issue with diving, but care less about other brands of cheating… What about players calling for corners and throw in’s when they clearly touched the ball last? Or players surrounding / berating a referee after a foul, with one faction begging for a card and the other arguing against it?

    Is it because the dive occurs within the run of play?

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