Manchester United 2-2 Aston Villa: United squander chance to move into Champions League contention

Tyrone Mings scores against Manchester United
Tyrone Mings scores against Manchester United

Manchester United squandered the chance to move into Champions League contention after being held to a 2-2 home draw by Aston Villa.

For a substantial period in the first half the visitors, who had lost 16 of their last 17 matches against established top-six opponents, controlled proceedings with a game plan centred around the influential Jack Grealish.

Villa's captain scored the opener and presented all manner of problems before Marcus Rashford forced an own goal from goalkeeper Tom Heaton minutes before the interval.

When Victor Lindelof put United ahead midway through the second half, coming from behind to take the lead for the second successive Premier League match, that should have been the signal for them to see out the game.

But, just like last weekend at Sheffield United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side conceded an equaliser, with Tyrone Mings volleying home just four minutes later as they lost the initiative.

So instead of reaching their highest position since mid-September, which would have put them within six points of Chelsea, United had to settle for a point which lifted them into ninth.

In truth they did not deserve victory, which would have papered over the cracks of another directionless performance, as it was Grealish who stole the show by demonstrating the absolute best of his talents.

Jack Grealish celebrates after giving Aston Villa the lead at Old Trafford
Jack Grealish celebrates after giving Aston Villa the lead at Old Trafford

It was an effortless display from the Villa captain, particularly in the first half.

Everything he did was intelligent and instinctive, hanging out on the left and then drifting inside with purpose, intent and a genuine threat.

On the occasions when United's players could get near him they could only foul but the goal he scored was brilliant in its execution, even if the apparent ease with which he skipped past Andreas Pereira was something of a concern.

Having collected an 11th-minute cross from Anwar El Ghazi, who injured himself in the process and took no further part, he cut back onto his right foot and curled a delightful shot over David De Gea and into the top corner.

The 24-year-old has now been directly involved in seven Premier League goals this season (three goals and four assists), the most of any English midfielder.

Even the loss of El Ghazi failed to halt Villa's progress as his replacement Trezeguet forced the ball over the line in a goalmouth scramble - again created by Grealish - only for it to be chalked off by an offside flag which had gone up a considerable time earlier.

Marcus Rashford scores Manchester United's equaliser against Aston Villa
Marcus Rashford looks to find the net - with it eventually ruled as a Tom Heaton own goal

Rashford had been one of the few United bright spots of the first half, shooting at Heaton and then bundling a shot wide, as the forward line fed off scraps chasing long balls.

However, a striker with 10 goals in his previous 11 matches for club and country does not need many more chances and things become easier when opportunities come gift-wrapped.

Misjudgements from Mings, in delaying his clearance, and Heaton, having to concede a corner to avoid sliding out of the area with the ball in his hands, allowed Pereira to swing over a cross for Rashford's header to hit the far post and go in off the goalkeeper.

United finally turned up for the second half with a weaving run from the previously anonymous Anthony Martial forcing Heaton into a reflex save, with Juan Mata's penalty claim turned down in the same attack.

Victor Lindelof scores against Aston Villa
Victor Lindelof scores in the second-half

The game appeared to change in the space of 60 seconds as a sliding Grealish failed to properly connect with Trezeguet's deflected pass at one end and Lindelof headed home Fred's cross at the other.

But the lead lasted less than four minutes as Matt Targett's chipped pass caught Brandon Williams hanging back as the United raced out defending a short free-kick and Mings, along with Trezeguet, was left alone to volley past De Gea.

Martial somehow scooped over from three yards but their momentum had been interrupted and there was no recovering it.

Match highlights

Manchester United 2-2 Aston Villa | Premier League highlights

Opta facts

  • Manchester United have won just 18 points in the Premier League this season; their fewest after 14 games of a top-flight campaign since 1988-89 (18), when they went on to finish 11th in the table.
  • Aston Villa avoided defeat against ‘big six’ opposition for the first time since November 2015 in the Premier League (0-0 v Man City) – they had lost each of their previous 11 such games coming into today.
  • Since keeping three consecutive Premier League clean sheets in February, Manchester United have only kept two in their last 25 games in the competition (36 goals conceded).
  • Excluding penalties, Aston Villa have conceded more goals from set pieces than any other team in the Premier League this season (nine).
  • There were just 112 seconds between Manchester United taking the lead through Victor Lindelöf (63:21) and Tyrone Mings levelling for Villa at 2-2 (65:13).
  • Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish has been directly involved in seven goals in the Premier League this season (three goals and four assists); the most of any English midfielder.
  • Victor Lindelöf’s goal was just his second in 84 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions, while they’ve both been scored at Old Trafford past goalkeeper Tom Heaton (previously versus Burnley in January).
  • Aston Villa named an unchanged starting XI for the fourth time in the Premier League this season - as many as they did in their 49 games in the Championship in 2018-19 (inc. play-offs).

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