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Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United: Five Key Observations

Aston Vila/Birmingham City Premiership 31.10.10 Photo: Tim Parker Fotosports International Stewart Downing Aston Villa 2010/11 Photo via Newscom

In arguably the weekend’s marquee match, undefeated Manchester United traveled to Birmingham to take on undefeated at home Aston Villa to open Premier League play on Saturday. The match itself placed 10th against 2nd in the league while it saw United coming off one of their best team performances of the season, Wednesday’s Manchester derby.

Aston Villa are in the midst of an injury crisis which witnessed the Villans without the services of John Carew, Emile Heskey, Stiliyan Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker and Steve Sidwell, among others. For all their absentees, Villa were by far the better team in what ended up a scoreless first half. Numerous balls into the box, both from Marc Albrighton on the right and Stewart Downing on the left, were flown into United’s penalty area yet Villa lacked the height and attacking gusto needed to head home.

Manchester United failed to really test Brad Friedel in the first half through a two-man strike force of Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez. The game’s second half witnessed a resurgent Villa and a United side that continued to lack any real spark in attack, until late on.

For the neutral, the match would have been an entertaining and open contest that ended with both sides sharing a point. Villa hit both the crossbar and the post in the second half before finally finding the breakthrough when Ashley Young converted a well deserved penalty.

Villa’s second of the day was the result of a spot on counter attack when Marc Albrighton deservedly finished after playing well throughout the match. While Villa continued to boss the match, United remained lackluster until Sir Alex Ferguson elected to pull his two starting strikers in favor of Federico Macheda and Gabriel Obertan who both provided the spark United needed to take control of the match late on.

Without further ado, here are five observations from what ended up a great Premier League match.

  • Aston Villa have more than a few incredibly promising young players. Villa looked most dangerous in the match when the ball was at the feet of Marc Albrighton on the right side of midfield. Time after time Villa utilized the crossing abilities of Albrighton to provide service that was only lacking a target man such as John Carew or Emile Heskey to head home Albrighton’s crosses. For Villa, young Scot Barry Bannan was impressive in the center of midfield with his accurate passing and vision. Although not dominant, Bannan produced a few moments of quality that lends a lot of belief to his potential.
  • United’s Nani is the epitome of a player who drifts in and out of form. When United lack the services of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, they desperately need Nani to be at his creative best. On Saturday, he wasn’t. In fact, he was far from the Nani who so brilliantly uses his pace both down the right flank and cutting into the center of the pitch to create the space he needs to shoot, pass or cross to United’s strikers. Going forward, it was painfully obvious that United were without a few of their key attacking players as time after time their attacks would break down in the final third.
  • When Manchester United fail to create width, they struggle. I suppose this could be said about most clubs on most days, but whether it’s Nani on the right, Giggs on the left or Evra overlapping United’s left sided midfielder, United need to create width on the flanks as opposed to forcing play so narrowly down the center of the pitch. It’s far too easy for clubs to clog the middle, sit back and defend. While it could easily be said that United missed Scholes, Giggs and Rooney, creative players the likes of Nani and Dimitar Berbatov are good enough to provide such a spark, they just weren’t on the day.
  • Stewart Downing had quite the game for Aston Villa. The former England winger gave Wes Brown fits all day long bombing down the left side of midfield. He produced a cross to marvel at midway through the second half that Marc Albrighton should have headed home. Downing’s pace and inventiveness will appear in the nightmares of Wes Brown who had a difficult time dealing with Downing’s creativity.
  • Sir Alex Ferguson still knows how to effectively implement his substitutes. In a move not seen that often, Ferguson pulled both of his starting forwards at the same time in the 73rd minute and replaced them with Federico Macheda and Gabriel Obertan. The move turned out to be the much needed change United needed as they ran riot over Villa for the final 15 minutes. Macheda scored United’s opener with a blistering strike and Obertan attacked with pace and purpose and could have easily won the game for United if it wasn’t for Brad Friedel’s face saving Obertan’s late shot.

As exciting as the game was for the neutral, both sets of supporters will likely feel slightly disappointed. Villa thought the three points belonged to them while United fans will view the draw as yet another two points dropped.

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  1. why?

    November 13, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    My point was Utd were poor same as City, totally the opposite of what the writer had wrote who thought their performance to be their best of the season. I posted because I thought this totally laughable! You obviously didn’t agree with me in the slightest or why would you post? Don’t you think I know teams can play badly and win or vice versa.

    Your criticism of City was that they were a ‘bunch of individuals’ funny enough same as the media at the start of the season! coincidence? But you are behind the times as they have now changed this, City now have a warring dressing room of players that all hate Mancini!!! Your comment saying that they are ‘seeking glory’ is strange one as I hope to God they are!!! As does any other football fan with their own team.

    While you ‘cheered’ for Utd by saying ‘Man U played like a cohesive unit’ when they clearly did not! Hence my 3 point difference remark.

    It also seems strange that you ‘despise’ these teams why? Do you not think that bit strong? Do you despise Utd because they are successful? Maybe because of the luck and decisions they seem to get?

    Do you despise City because they can spend what they like as they are now rich compared to many years without the proverbial pot to piss in? Any other footie fan would love this for their own club and why not. So tell me why you despise these clubs? Could that green eye monster be raising his ugly head? If not then please tell me why, maybe Rooney and Tevez beat you up one night? Lol.

  2. Why?

    November 13, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    ‘it saw United coming off one of their best team performances of the season, Wednesday’s Manchester derby.’

    If that was their best team performance they are in major trouble. You cannot be serious!!

    • gwenhara

      November 13, 2010 at 2:04 pm

      Best team performance doesn’t equate a high scoring steam rolling of another team. It means that Man U played like a cohesive unit rather than a bunch of individuals seeking glory. You can have a terrible team performance and put up a bunch of goals.

      • J

        November 13, 2010 at 4:32 pm

        Yeah I think he was just being sarcastic.

      • Why?

        November 13, 2010 at 6:22 pm

        Gwenhara, let me get this straight, Man U the 18 times champions of England the Worlds Greatest Team tm (In there own words) went to the crisis club that is facing a player mutiny (according to a hope City fall on their face press) with a 4-5-1 (defensive) formation playing Paul Scholes as a defensive midfielder to stifle City’s play and guess what surprise, surprise they did just that well done Utd. The bookmakers said if their was to be a winner it would be Utd, they were the favourites but they managed to muster a massive 3 or 4 pass backs to Joe Hart and believe me they were back passes. Yet you say they played as a cohesive unit how? what did they do but NOTHING? So City played as individuals did they? I guess they got lucky then as Utd clearly deserve to score 6 did they? Don’t you bother watching the game? Have you just read the bias press the next day and taken your opinion from them? Any Utd supporters I spoke to on the night or the next day (I’m in Manchester and went to the game) know that their were two teams scared of losing, the game had TWO teams playing badly not one. Utd set up like they would against Barca away in a European semi-final when has Fergie ever done this? Fair enough they showed much respect to City this shows how true the crisis is doen’t it. When a bias media talk about City being negative what the hell were Utd if not negative? Jesse seems to think it a great performance by Utd but they did NOTHING hence my comment and were every bit a bad if not worse (as favourites). So please don’t try and tell me they played well as they were poor. I mean what did your cohesive unit (lol) do that City didn’t? Answer NOTHING. Oh by the way that team of individuals is 3 points behind your cohesive unit my friend, with Utd still having to play Chelsea and Arsenal as City have.

        • gwenhara

          November 13, 2010 at 6:53 pm

          I don’t believe I criticized Man City any more than I cheered for Man U. I merely pointed out you can have a good team effort, see positives on the pitch between the players, and not win or score a mountain of goals.

          Quite frankly, I despise both teams and was glad that the derby ended in a dull, stagnant manner.

  3. Madschester United

    November 13, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Placing Smalling as a 3rd CF was genius.

  4. Villain-from-Texas

    November 13, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Gutted that Villa couldn’t pull out the three points. To United’s credit, their two goals were very well taken. Maybe Friedel could’ve done better on the second, but that was great wing play by Nani.

    Villa fans have been saying for some time now that our youngsters can play. Bannan only recently started to get a run—this was only his third start in the league—and has more than looked the part. People worried about his size, but he has demonstrated that it shouldn’t hold him back. We still don’t even have two of our most promising youngesters, Delph and Gary Gardner, both of whom are battling back from injury.

  5. The Gaffer

    November 13, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Sometimes I wonder whether Sir Alex Ferguson is the luckiest manager on earth or a pure genius. How many times can he and his team keep on pulling a draw or a late win out of the bag?

    The Gaffer

    • Devils Advocate

      November 14, 2010 at 5:06 am

      Gaffer, I suspect your answer’s implicit in the comment. The Press and opposition supporters would have us believe that United are the luckiest team ever and there’s no doubt they’ve had their fair share. But I’m also reminded of the the saying “the harder you work, the luckier you get.” As pointed out on MOTD, the great teams can still pull off a result when not at their best.

      Given United have been performing poorly by their standards this season, it’s testimony to Ferguson’s tactical nouse that they remain in the top 3 of the PL and never give up as was the case again yesterday against Villa. For all the inconsistencies this season, they are nontheless consistently successful as the trophy cabinet testifies testifies for the past 20 years.

      • The Gaffer

        November 14, 2010 at 7:54 am

        Devils Advocate, I agree that you make your own luck by continuing to try. And United almost never give up. But after a while pure luck does come into it, but you’re right most of it is luck generated from hard work.

        The Gaffer

    • chris frey

      November 14, 2010 at 8:43 am

      I think it comes down to depth of squad. Wenger has had lot’s of luck. The Gunner’s always seem to have that extra gear when the match is on the line. I think that’s what makes watching those two clubs play so exciting, and at times frustrating. I support Chelsea so, I couldn’t believe my luck when Villa went up 2-nil. I thought for sure United was going home with nothing. They pulled off yet another amazing comeback.

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