Manchester United maintained their position at the top of the Barclays Premier League with another come-from-behind victory, this time away to Paul Lambert’s youthful Aston Villa side. The game will be remembered for Javier Hernández’s stunning second half impact from the bench while Villa will be disappointed to have finished without anything to show for their hard work and solid tactics.
First Half – Villa Hassle United
When playing a vastly superior side, two basic goals for any side would be to keep things tight defensively and look to break well while you can. In the first half, Villa achieved these goals and had a 1-0 lead at half-time to show for it.
United had a midfield duo of Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, neither of whom are particularly known for great mobility but are adept at controlling the tempo. Villa made sure that Scholes and Carrick did not get the room to dominate the game and pressed well with Stephen Ireland and Barry Bannan closing them down quickly in the middle of the park. There were no easy passes through the middle and as a result, United’s strikers were isolated.
Villa also did well to make sure that United did not create dangerous one-on-one situations on the flanks with both wingers getting back to help out their respective full-backs. This level of defensive organization made it difficult for United to create any sort of meaningful opportunities. United’s only shots on target came from a corner and a long-range effort, both of which did not worry Guzan much.
Offensively, Villa were direct and looked to catch United on the break with their pace. Lambert was brave in selecting Benteke, Agbonlahor and Weimann in the starting lineup and it paid off. The opening goal came as a result of some excellent work from Benteke on the left touchline where he outpowered Smalling before setting up Weimann, who had roamed inside and found himself in space. Weimann finished excellently and Villa went into the break a goal to the good and deservedly so.
Second Half – Hernández Impact
Sir Alex Ferguson did not waste any time in making changes at half-time. Hernández came on for Young and Rooney went to the left. But it was Villa who scored first to double their lead. After a cheap turnover by Paul Scholes, a Villa break ensued which ended in Agbonlahor drilling a low ball across the 6-yard box which was slotted home by Weimann.
As one would expect, Villa’s pressing dropped as they looked to shut-up-shop. This is something that helped United get back into the game, especially with so much of the game still remaining. United’s first goal came as a result of an excellent ball over the defence from Paul Scholes to Hernández, who slipped the ball between Guzan’s legs. Scholes had a good 10 yards of space to make that pass, space that he would not have had in the first half.
Once that first goal went in with about half an hour to go, a United comeback win always seemed likely. Agbonlahor went to sleep in his defensive third allowing Rafael to float a cross to Hernández at the far post whose shot was deflected in by Ron Vlaar.
The pressure mounted on the Villa goal as van Persie hit the crossbar twice in a matter of minutes. United eventually got the winner after Hernández headed home a van Persie free-kick in the 87th minute (a goal which could have been avoided with zonal marking but I’m sure that no “pundit” will point that out). The comeback was complete.
Paul Lambert’s side can be proud of their performance in this game. They were excellent tactically and couldn’t have done much else to salvage something from this game. Not many would have expected such a good showing from this young Villa side against the league leaders. It shows that against vastly superior opposition, even getting your game plan right might not be enough. You still have to rely on the opposition missing chances.
United once again came from behind to snatch a win. Ferguson’s men have won 8 out of the 10 times after going behind this season. While United have been shaky defensively, the attack has continued to do the business. United not only have the quality in attack but also the variety to change things around during a game. Someone like Javier Hernández can stretch a defence with his pace and poaching ability which makes him such a useful option off the bench when the likes of van Persie and Rooney aren’t getting much joy.
While questions may be asked as to whether United can maintain this streak of outscoring opponents, neutrals will be hoping for more of the same with United proving to be one of the most entertaining teams in Europe by scoring and conceding quite a few goals.