The Red Devils came into Saturday’s game on the back of a disappointing loss to West Ham in the League Cup and we’re expected to give a response. But they were far from their flowing best and ended up losing their third game in four matches against an Aston Villa side that came ready to fight for three points.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side started the day in third place and could have taken grip of first place with a win here as Chelsea were playing Manchester City in the afternoon. But what followed was a lacklustre performance and a disappointing loss that will increase the pressure on the United boss.
Both teams had a go at themselves in an open and entertaining first half. But neither side could break the deadlock in the first half, which saw Harry Maguire’s headed effort in the 44th minute the closest either team came to scoring a goal.
With the game open, both teams came out of the break with the desire to score first. But the first real action of the second half was the enforced substitution of Harry Maguire, who was withdrawn after suffering an injury. The injury was the second that United had suffered in the game after Luke Shaw was replaced earlier by Diogo Dalot.
Both sides continued to press for a goal. But it was the away team who looked the most threatening. They were finally rewarded with a goal in the 88th minute when Hause met a Douglas Luiz corner at the near post with a powerful header to beat De Gea and hand Villa the initiative.
But there was more time for drama late in the game as the goalscorer Hause gave away a penalty after handling in the box while trying to stop Bruno Fernandes’ cross.
The Portuguese stepped up to take the spot-kick but sent his effort way over the bar and condemned Manchester United to their second defeat in as many games.
A frustrating afternoon for Ronaldo and Fernandes
When Manchester United won the penalty late in the game, most people at Old Trafford expected Cristiano Ronaldo to take the spot-kick. But instead of the number 7, it was his national team teammate who took responsibility and missed.
Since his return to England, Ronaldo has found the net in every game he has played, and is already leading the scoring charts at United. But on Saturday, he was well marshalled by the impressive Villa who limited him to a few runs and weak shorts.
Although Ronaldo has nine goals against Aston Villa—the most he has against any opponent in all English competitions—Saturday wasn’t just his day.
Lucky day for Aston Villa
Dean Smith’s men came to Old Trafford on Saturday with a horrible record. The Midlanders had recorded just one win in 33 visits to Old Trafford—with their last win coming in 2009.
But on Saturday, luck was on their side as they claimed vital three points. They scored the goal they need at the right time via a set-piece and were lucky that the otherwise reliable Fernandes could not bury his penalty.
The midfielder had only missed one penalty in his last 14, but could not beat Martinez when it mattered the most. An unlucky day for him, but a good one for Aston Villa, who moved up to 7th place on the table.
Dean Smith dealing with Grealish absence well
When Grealish left Villa in the summer, many predicted that the Clarets will go down. But such has not been the case as Villa are even thriving better without their former talisman.
Villa coach Dean Smith has built a very solid team out of the mega-money Manchester City paid for Grealish. Instead of relying on one player, his side have become more robust and can hurt any team from every angle of the pitch.
Last season, their average possession was less than 42%, but this term Villa have enjoyed at least 51% of the ball. On Saturday they went toe-to-toe with United and were for large spells of the game, the better, hungrier and fitter team. On the evidence of what was seen against United, this team will take some stopping.
Back to the drawing board for Solskjaer
Three losses in four games sandwiched between a scruffy win against West Ham United has increased the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Norwegian is in his third season at the club and is expected to win trophies this campaign following a very successful summer. His side boasts the second most expensive squad in the league behind Man City. But they have performed badly in recent times and need a tweak.
How he responds to this setback will prove his managerial and mental solidity.