Tim Fosu-Mensah.

Friendly: Aston Villa 1 United 0

Manchester United received a welcome warm-up for the 2020/21 Premier League season in a 1-0 friendly defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was without the services of several key members of his first-team squad, and handed a number of players their maiden senior appearance for the Reds.

There was a first glimpse of Donny van de Beek, our summer signing from Ajax, and Dean Henderson, back from two seasons at Sheffield United, kept goal. Young forward Anthony Elanga was one of the substitutes used during the second half to get a first taste of senior football, while fellow rookies Teden Mengi and Ethan Galbraith also got on.

It was a quiet opening in the West Midlands on Saturday, with the only real chances in the opening quarter of an hour coming via a Conor Hourihane free-kick, which blazed over, and, following fine work by Scott McTominay and van de Beek, a dangerous Daniel James cross that fizzed into the Villa box but wasn’t met by a United player.

When the first real chance of note presented itself, it proved to be crucial. Jack Grealish picked the ball up on the left wing and fired a ball over to Trezeguet on the other flank. The Egyptian sent in a great cross right onto the head of Ollie Watkins, and Villa’s new striking recruit nodded it past Henderson.

Whether the goal should have stood, however, is up for debate given James was brought down in the Villa box just a minute prior, but referee Lee Mason adjudged Ezri Konsa’s challenge to be legal.

United continued to press after Watkins’s opener and Jesse Lingard went close from a shot on the edge of the box, after some neat link-up play with Odion Ighalo.
The Nigerian centre-forward then had a serious penalty claim when he was up-ended in the box, but again referee Mason waved away the Reds’ appeals.

Just after the 30-minute mark, Watkins came close to doubling Villa’s lead, but the cross into him from Grealish was just a few centimetres too far ahead of the striker’s run.

Lingard was proving to be United's most dangerous outlet and he was unlucky not to score when he dropped a shoulder on the edge of the box and curled an effort towards the bottom corner. However, Villa goalkeeper Jed Steer was equal to it and palmed the ball wide.

United certainly ended the half stronger and, somehow, a goalmouth scramble just before the interval didn’t yield a goal. Ighalo, Harry Maguire and James all looked destined to score within the space of 15 seconds, but were denied by some frantic Villa defending.

Lingard then provided the last chance of the first period when Luke Shaw’s cross found the midfielder in the box, but again Steer denied him.

Daniel James gets pulled back.
Daniel James caused problems for the Aston Villa defence.

The second half was a much scrappier affair, with both sides understandably lacking full match fitness. James caused the Villa backline issues down our left flank with several dangerous crosses and the Wales international also hit the side-netting with a strike on 64 minutes.

Villa also failed to create any clear-cut chances - the hosts’ best opportunity came courtesy of John McGinn, but his side-footed effort failed to seriously test Henderson. However, they enjoyed a greater share of possession and did apply some pressure.

Both managers began to make changes after the hour-mark, which affected the flow of proceedings at Villa Park. Rashford had one of United’s most promising chances, but his shot from the edge of the box flew just wide.

Van de Beek - who enjoyed a solid United debut - showed signs of the interplay and technical passing we’ll hopefully see from him over the course of the season.

He played in youngster Galbraith with 15 minutes remaining, but the Northern Irishman’s strike was always curling away from Steer’s goal.

Lingard then produced the last opening of note in the game when he nearly chipped the Villa keeper from all of 35 yards. Our no.14 noticed Steer off his line and quickly fired an effort on target, however, the keeper got back just in time to make a smart save.

All in all, the result was never going to be important but certainly the first-half display by the Reds was better than the second.

MATCH DETAILS

Aston Villa: Steer; Cash (Elmohamady 71), Konsa, Mings, Targett; Hourihane, Luiz, McGinn; Trezeguet (Jota 76), Watkins (Samatta 66), Grealish.

Substitutes not used: Nyland, Sinisalo, Taylor, Lansbury, Nkamba, El Ghazi, Guilbert, Hause, Ramsey, Davis.

Scorer: Watkins 16.

Booked: Cash 55.

United: Henderson (Grant 75); Dalot (Williams 70), Fosu-Mensah, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay (Galbraith 45), van de Beek, Lingard, Rashford (Elanga 75), James; Ighalo (Mengi 61).

Booked: Lingard 56.

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