Match report: United 2 Aston Villa 1
Manchester United moved level on points with Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table thanks to a stirring 2-1 win against Aston Villa at Old Trafford.
It was a riveting start to the new year with the Reds' first goal of 2021 going to Anthony Martial when he opened the scoring with a low, guided header five minutes before a breath-taking half came to an end.
Villa’s standing as one of the most improved sides in the Premier League this season was obvious as they fought back to level terms on 58 minutes, through Bertrand Traore.
However, the equaliser didn’t deflate the buoyant Reds who re-took the lead three minutes later with Bruno Fernandes making it 2-1 from the penalty spot.
FIRST HALF - TOP VALUE ENTERTAINMENT
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made four changes from the side that had beaten Wolverhampton Wanderers in added time three days previously, with an eye on energy levels staying high.
United certainly started with plenty of vitality with one of the newcomers, Fred, dinking over a superb pass for Fernandes in the box after just two minutes. The Portuguese midfielder forced a save from Emiliano Martinez and there was some chaos in the box before Villa managed to clear.
Fernandes, inevitably, created one for Martial and the Frenchman’s stinger brought out another save from Martinez. Fred was prominent and sent in a rasping shot that flashed just over the bar, while, at the other end, John McGinn saw David De Gea match the early stops of his opposite number.
It was a thrilling, breathless start from two of the in-form teams in the Premier League, with Villa enjoying a spell on top before Paul Pogba’s snapshot sent a warning back after 25 minutes of great entertainment.
Villa grabbed back the initiative but it was Fernandes who came closest to scoring, with a curling right footer after 37 minutes. Finally a goal came courtesy of an excellent United move. De Gea started it, but it was Pogba's brilliant skill in midfield that caught the eye. He played it to Marcus Rashford and, after the cutest of flicks, Aaron Wan-Bissaka crossed for Martial to stoop and head in from the edge of the six-yard area.
SECOND HALF - BRUNO SPOT ON TO WIN THRILLER
Villa came close to an early leveller with a Jack Grealish cross being met by a header from Ollie Watkins. The striker’s well-directed attempt was brilliantly flipped over the bar by De Gea. Then Anwar El Ghazi lashed one just over into the East Stand, with Rashford answering with a shot.
It was unrelenting action, but it was Villa who cashed in on their upbeat start after the interval, with an equaliser after 58 minutes. A quick free-kick caught the Reds flat-footed and Grealish crossed to the far post where Traore smashed in with his left foot.
The Reds were back in front just three minutes later. Douglas Luiz brought down Pogba in the box and after a nervous wait for VAR to confirm Michael Oliver’s decision, Fernandes crashed in the penalty to make it 2-1.
Martial almost made it three with a ferocious shot that was stopped by Martinez. There was no let up in this hugely exciting, action-packed new year offering and Pogba was a fraction away from a goal in the 73rd minute that would have brilliantly finished off some excellent Luke Shaw work.
Watkins went close for Villa, Fernandes brought out a top-class save from Martinez and Rashford saw a superb drive just flash over the bar.
It was a hearts-in-mouths finale as Villa pushed for a late equaliser. Full-back Matty Cash was closest with a shot that was superbly palmed away by De Gea and Eric Bailly pulled off a match-winning block to deny Keinan Davis, seconds from the end of a dramatic evening.
United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw; Fred (Tuanzebe 90+3), McTominay (Matic 64), Pogba, Fernandes (James 86); Martial, Rashford.
Subs not used: Henderson, Telles, van de Beek, Lingard, Mata, Greenwood.
Goals: Martial 40, Fernandes 61 pen
Bookings: Maguire, Bailly, Shaw, Matic
Aston Villa: Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Luiz, Grealish; Traore (Ramsey 79), Watkins, El Ghazi (Davis 84).
Subs not used: Heaton, Hause, Elmohamady, Guilbert, Taylor, Nakamba, Hourihane.
Goal: Traore 58