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]