Talking points: United 2 Villa 1
Manchester United started the new year in the perfect manner as we beat Aston Villa 2-1 in the Premier League.
It was also a good night for goalscorers Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes, while Eric Bailly put in another brilliant display at the back.
We explain these in more depth and detail some of the other major talking points from a great night at Old Trafford…
REMEMBERING THE DOC
Ahead of kick-off there was a poignant moment as both sides held a minute’s silence to mark the passing of Tommy Docherty. The former United boss, who also had a stint in charge at Villa Park, passed away on Thursday at the age of 92. All players also wore black armbands as a mark of respect.
It was a landmark night for David De Gea, as he made his 327th Premier League appearance. That’s one more than Roy Keane registered in his time at the club, meaning David has now played more Premier League games for United than any other non-British player. He’s also now moved to fifth in our list of most Premier League appearances, behind Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney. The Spaniard marked the occasion by putting in an excellent display and he made superb saves to deny John McGinn in the first half and Ollie Watkins and Matty Cash in the second.
TIED AT THE TOP
Starting the year with a win means United move level on points with Liverpool at the league’s summit, although it is the Merseysiders who remain first, courtesy of goal difference. After 16 games, United have earned 33 points, four more than Leicester and Everton, who lost to West Ham United earlier in the day. The Reds also extended our unbeaten run in the league to 10 matches.
In the Premier League era, the Villans certainly haven’t enjoyed crossing swords with United. In fact, Villa have only beaten us once in competitive games this century. The 2-1 scoreline on New Year’s Day ensured United picked up another win against the West Midlanders, the 100th in our history. The first came when Newton Heath beat Villa in 1892 and 129 years later we made it double figures against the Claret and Blues.
The visitors struggled to get to grips with United’s movement, in particular in the first period, as Paul Pogba, Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were popping up all over the show. Our fluid shape was evident in the first goal, as Pogba moved inside and elegantly flicked the ball over McGinn’s head before kicking it to Rashford, who nonchalantly tapped it into Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s path. In front of England manager Gareth Southgate, the right-back steamed down the line and crossed it for Martial to nod in. An all-round excellent opener to 2021.
There aren’t many more industrious strikers in the Premier League than Watkins, and he kept Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly on their toes all night. With Watkins pulling out more to the left, it was the latter who burdened most of the responsibility of dealing with the forward. The Ivorian enjoyed an enthralling battle with the former Brentford man, one Bailly certainly came out on top of. He nipped in to claim the ball from several aerial duels, and was on hand to deny substitute Keinan Davis with a big block right on the final whistle. It was a commanding performance from our no.3, who is starting to establish himself in the team again after an awful run of injuries in recent seasons.
ANOTHER PHENOMENAL FERNANDES FACT
Friday’s match was Bruno’s 30th in the Premier League and the Portuguese midfielder netted his 19th league goal when he slotted home from the spot just after the hour mark. It means only Ruud van Nistelrooy has scored more times for the Reds in his opening 30 Premier League games. The Dutchman bagged 22 in that period, while his fellow countryman Robin van Persie is level with Bruno on 19. Exceptional numbers from our December Player of the Month.