|1||Van der Sar|
United failed to close the gap at the top of the Barclays Premier League after being held to a frustrating goalless draw at Aston Villa.
The Reds dictated play for long periods against a subdued Villa but were unable to make the decisive breakthrough, with Wayne Rooney spurning the best chance midway through the second half.
While a point may not be the worst result away at a top-four side, it meant the champions were unable fully to take advantage of slips-up by Liverpool and Chelsea earlier in the day.
United had arrived for the early evening clash having won on all 11 of their previous visits to Villa Park in all competitions. The Reds’ line-up showed three changes as Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs all returned from injury or illness.
Villa created the first opening as Gabriel Agbonlahor, fresh from his impressive England debut in midweek, ran onto Martin Laursen’s flicked header but couldn’t divert the ball past Edwin van der Sar.
United’s only chance of note in the opening quarter of an hour came when Cristiano Ronaldo cut inside and unleashed a half-volley that Brad Friedel did well to palm wide.
Nigel Reo-Coker, a midfielder by trade but playing at right-back, ventured forward and found himself with space and time to shoot, but van der Sar clung on well low to his left.
On a lush playing surface United were playing some coherent football, with Giggs, Rooney and Carlos Tevez in particular looking lively, but were finding high-flying Villa a little more difficult to break down than Stoke the previous week.