Another dominating performance at Old Trafford from Manchester United, and Paul Scholes in particular, led to a comfortable 4-0 win against Aston Villa today. In the process the gap over rivals City was reinstated to 5 points.
With City resoundingly stuffing Norwich 6-1 during their Saturday lunch time game, Uniteds lead had bean cut to a nervy 2 points. Pressure was heaped on United to take all 3 points against Villa. A good performance wouldn’t go a miss too, to inspire a little confidence after the mid week loss to Wigan. United produced both.
Ferguson fielded our strongest line up available, with Scholes, Welbeck and Rafael brought back into the starting 11. Villa naturally took a more defensive 4-5-1 line up. So it was a little surprising that the opening minutes were relatively even, Villa looking to go forward as much as The Reds.
It was Weimann who almost gave Villa a shock lead in fact, within the 1st 30 seconds. Beating the offside trap down the left inside channel he got his shot away. Thankfully, he shot was comfortable for David De Gea. It was, however, an early warning for United not to let complacency set in against a team with an atrocious record at Old Trafford. That actually was about all the action the United ‘keeper would see during the 1st half. Villa did have small periods where they had the ball in the final 3rd but the final ball would let them down.
After the early scare it didn’t take long for the Champions to gain some control and start to knock the ball around in and around the Villa danger zone. Rooney saw his on-target effort, in the 4th minute, strike Ashley Young as United looked for an early goal to settle any nerves the players and fans may have had.
The wait wasn’t to be long one. After his ‘tumble’ last week against QPR to earn a penalty, Ashley Young was again at the centre of a controversial penalty decision. Cutting in from the left he beat his first man before striding into the box where he collided with Ciaran Clark. Admittedly it was a theatrical fall but he was caught and the correct decision was made. Many will argue that he took a dive, I believe he brought it. Much in the way Dzeko brought his penalty against Sunderland a couple of weeks ago. Not strictly honest but clumsy defending left the referee with little option. Wayne Rooney, for the second time in a week, stepped up to calmly send Shay Given the wrong way and put United a goal up.
From then on United began to dominated the remainder of the half. As to be expected, given Antonio Valencia’s recent form, the greatest threat came down the right flank. Rafael provided an excellent foil for Valencia, as the two are beginning to create and understanding, and were linking wonderfully to create numerous chances. Again Rooney was denied after he was picked out perfectly via a Rafael cut back.
Young and Evra were also a threat on the opposite wing. Young cutting inside would allow Evra space. Though it was Paul Scholes who Young almost slipped in. Having cut in once again, he fainted to shoot but provided a reverse ball to Paul Scholes who’s run into space looked to present a great opportunity to score. only to be thwarted by a last ditch Alan Hutton tackle.
It was Danny Welbeck, however, who was getting the best chances to double the lead. Firstly, he almost found himself close to being put through from a beautiful Rooney flick. Soon after, his goal bound header was blocked on the line. Villa defenders were looking like getting the better of him when twice more they managed to get courageous blocks in to deny him a goal to break his current drought.
Shay Given’s reaction had to be at their best to deny Welbeck also. Again, good work, and desire to win the ball, down the right by Rafael and Valencia led to the latter drilling a low ball into the box. Welbeck reacted quickly to poke the ball towards goal, only for Given to react even quicker to reach a hand to it and lift it over.
Villa attacks were becoming rarer. Stephen Ireland’s curling effort was all their fans had to excite them. Although it had De Gea scrambling, it was always going wide.
Scholes, once again dictating play, spurred on by his goal against QPR came close to what would have been goal of the season. A floated Ashley Young corner to edge of the box saw Scholes run onto the ball from deep, where he connected perfectly on the volley.
United’s pressure, and the chances it brought, deserved a second goal. But with half time approaching and United beginning to look a little sloppy with their passing it looked as if we would have to settle for a slim lead at the break.
The entire half though, there had been space to exploit in the Villa back line and finally that space would be punished, and before the interval. Patrice Evra found space to charge into the box, at the Villa defence, where he slid a low ball to the back post. Welbeck, looking sharp from the off, gambled and slid in to direct the ball over the line. The ball should have been cleared to safety by the Villa defence but hesitation meant that the game was now likely out of their reach. With it, their relegation fears increased.
It didn’t take long for United to threaten the Villa goal again after the restart. Rooney, almost through himself, couldn’t quite stretch to prod the ball square to Welbeck who would have only had the ‘keeper to beat.
With that United fans thought that there would be little let up on the Villa goal. In actual fact the game got a little scrappy, Scholes and Hutton both picking up yellows for late tackles. With Carrick booked in the first half the tenacious central midfield naturally had to be restrained a little.
Nani came on for Young and Emilke Heskey replaced Clark to give Villa a more attacking formation. With that change the flow of the game did too. Villa now carried a more attacking threat and with it grew their ambition. United sat for this period and dropped their tempo. However, Villa only created a couple half decent chances. Heskey, firstly, rose above Johnny Evens to direct a header at goal. His effort though was comfortably tipped over by De Gea. Minutes later a bullet of a Barker header, from a corner, flew wide of the goal.
This period of Villa possession, however, did let United in again. Once again the threat came from United’s right, where Valencia cut a ball back to an unmarked Wayne Rooney. Unfortunately his first time shot didn’t connect properly and the ball rolled tamely wide.
They were also denied a strong penalty claim. When Nani got his head onto a Valencia corner the ball clearly struck an arm. It looked a clear penalty but the appeals were waved away by the referee.
The Barker header was another wake up call for United. A Villa goal now and it would be game on again. United picked their tempo once again. Add that to Villa’s more attacking formation and it was only a matter of time before all 3 points were safe.
It was actually just 3 minutes after the Barker header that United scored their 3rd. Wayne Rooney found Valencia in space to his right. Once again Valencia elected to drill the ball into the box. This time Rooney had space to take a touch and fire home past Given, via a slight deflection.
With the game won it was time to make changes. Cleverley replaced Scholes and there was to be a rare appearance by Berbatov, who replaced Rooney.
Not content, United pushed for more. Shay Given was lucky not be caught out by Welbeck when the young striker put him under pressure on the edge of the box. Given slid out of the area and actually handled, pushing the ball away from Welbeck. The referee assumed there to be an advantage and played on. The attack led to nothing, however.
United kept coming. Berbatov found himself with space in the box to fire a shot, but once again Villa bodies flung themselves at the ball to block his effort. Rafael also found himself in a good position to shot at goal, but again Villa bodies were in the way. This time though the blocked shot fell to Welbeck who himself shot. The ball struck Given, who knew little about it, and somehow it was kept out.
Given had to be at his best too to palm over an Antonio Valencia shot. The Villa ‘keeper had been on good form today, and was a major factor the scoreline wasn’t greater.
It had been a good day for the Reds though, and it was capped off in injury time by Nani. Intricate play on the edge of the box saw Evans play a lovely pass to Nani who calmly slipped the ball under Given to make Uniteds constant pressure reap its reward.
They said City’s emphatic win was a statement. So was this. Under great pressure before the game, United came out and played like a team who had no intention of finishing second to the local rivals. At this stage of the season the important thing is to win games, no matter how good the performance is. Today though, I feel a good performance was needed too, just to show any doubters that we are still the team to beat. Job done.
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