Despite another hot start and early lead, Manchester United conceded two second-half goals as Philippe Coutinho spoiled Bruno Fernandes’ brace on the Brazilian’s Aston Villa debut in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Villa Park.
Interim manager Ralf Rangnick stuck with a 4-2-3-1, which became a 4-3-3 in possession, from Monday’s 1-0 FA Cup win against Villa. Nemanja Matic started in place of the suspended Scott McTominay in midfield, Alex Telles replaced the suspended Luke Shaw at left back, and Anthony Elanga took Marcus Rashford’s place at left wing. Cristiano Ronaldo was sidelined for a second consecutive game with a hip flexor injury.
The Reds got off to a confident start and scored within the first six minutes. United used its width down the left wing with Elanga and Telles, and the Brazilian drove down the wing in the fifth minute and won a free kick from 25 yards out. Telles ran over the ball, and Bruno Fernandes, who only had one goal in 14 previous games, fired a shot that was fumbled through the legs of Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez to open the scoring. It felt as if the Portuguese midfielder redeemed himself for his miss against Martínez from the penalty spot in Villa’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford on Sept. 25.
Momentum remained in United’s favor as the half went on, and the team began to display the “control,” on and off the ball, that Rangnick has preached about since arriving in Manchester last month. The back four was organized and kept a high line, which allowed the team to press high. Diogo Dalot and Telles combined with forwards on the wings and whipped in crosses to Edinson Cavani, and Fernandes played a key role in build-up play as he dropped deep to get the ball from the center backs and find options up the pitch.
Elanga was sharp throughout the half as he took players on and cut into the box to create scoring chances on multiple occasions. The 19-year-old forward saw a header barely go wide in the 12th minute and won a free kick after splitting two defenders in the 23rd minute.
The momentum swung in Villa’s favor for the last 15 minutes of the half as Steven Gerrard’s side pressed United and forced sloppy turnovers. David de Gea was called upon to make a couple of key saves to keep United’s lead going into halftime.
Villa remained on the front foot and dominated Rangnick’s side in the second half. Midfielder Jacob Ramsey sparked what would be an impressive half for the hosts in the 49th minute as he forced de Gea to make a strong save at the near post, and the Claret and Blue kept pressing United in the final third to create more chances.
United’s first promising chance of the half came in the 58th minute as they won a corner, and it seemed as if the Reds were likely to double the lead for a brief period. Dalot forced Morgan Sanson to turn the ball over to Fred nine minutes later, and Fernandes fired a strike from the top of the box that hit the crossbar and went into the back to double the lead.
It looked as if United sealed the game there, but Gerrard introduced Coutinho to the Villa faithful in the 68th minute for Sanson, which ultimately changed the game. Nine minutes later, Tyrone Mings dribbled through United’s midfield and played the ball to Coutinho, who set up Ramsey for Villa’s first goal. Ramsey then sent a cross through the six-yard box into the Brazilian for the tying goal five minutes after to cap off Coutinho’s impactful debut.
Rangnick brought on Jadon Sancho for Elanga, Donny van de Beek for Fernandes, and Jesse Lingard for Greenwood, but it was too little, too late for the Reds. United has three days to correct its mistakes before traveling to Brentford on Wednesday.