It’s two steps forward and one step back for Manchester United, who succumbed to a disappointing 3-1 defeat away at struggling Aston Villa in Sunday’s Premier League clash in the Midlands. It was an extremely flat performance from the Reds, who failed to recover from conceding twice in quick succession early in the match.
Erik ten Hag made only one change to the team that beat Real Sociedad on Thursday, with Marcus Rashford returning to take the place of the suspended Bruno Fernandes. Rashford joined Donny van de Beek and Alejandro Garnacho behind captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who spearheaded United’s attack.
This game was Unai Emery’s first in charge of the side that sacked Steven Gerrard after a 3-0 defeat to Fulham last month. The Spaniard could hardly have dreamed of a better start.
Villa found themselves ahead inside eight minutes, when Jacob Ramsey found space goalside of United’s midfield. He slid the ball through for Leon Bailey, who burst past Lindelöf and fired across David de Gea and into the far corner.
Within five minutes, the hosts had another. A brilliant 25-yard free kick from Lucas Digne cleared the wall and arrowed into the top corner of de Gea’s goal, leaving a lacklustre United reeling.
The visitors’ response was meek, and they failed to register a single shot on target until past the half-hour, when Garnacho and Ronaldo were both denied in quick succession. Garnacho saw a low shot beaten away by Emi Martínez, while Ronaldo nodded a tame header straight at the Argentinian keeper.
United thought they’d found a route back into the match on the stroke of halftime, when an audacious half-volley from Luke Shaw took a wicked deflection off Villa midfielder Ramsey and looped into the top-right of Martínez’s goal.
However, within five minutes of the restart Villa restored their two-goal cushion. Some sloppy defending allowed Ollie Watkins to surge down the left and roll a low pass across the edge of the box, which the onrushing Ramsey side-footed into the top corner. It was a fantastic finish, and more than made amends for his earlier own goal.
It took until past the hour, but eventually ten Hag responded to United’s strangely subdued performance with a triple change. Tyrell Malacia, Anthony Elanga and Anthony Martial were all introduced, with Shaw, Garnacho and van de Beek withdrawn.
Still United looked flat, and Diogo Dalot summed things up when he worked his way into a shooting position and opted to pass straight into a sea of Villa bodies rather than pull the trigger. The defeat sees United slip to fifth in the table, three points behind Tottenham Hotspur in the final Champions League spot.