What we learned from the Villa draw
Manchester United closed our trip to Australia with a 2-2 draw against Aston Villa at Optus Stadium in Perth.
Here are the top talking points from a wet and windy night in Western Australia, starting with the fact that there was even football played at all...
The weather hasn’t been too kind to us on this pre-season tour and Perth’s climate has been particularly changeable over the last few days. Following overnight downpours and a biblical thunderstorm this morning, there was a real possibility that the game would be cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch - the surface has been heavily used recently, with Crystal Palace and Leeds United playing out a 1-1 draw here on Friday night. Great work by the ground staff, however, cleared much of the surface water and, at 15:00 local time, it was announced that the friendly would proceed as planned.
FIRST START FOR DONNY
Donny van de Beek impressed as a substitute in the 3-1 win over Crystal Palace on Tuesday and, with Scott McTominay absent from the squad, the Netherlands international was given the nod from the off by the manager. Our no.34 lined up alongside Fred in midfield. Once again, Ten Hag resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes, with van de Beek one of just two alterations made to the side which beat Palace. Luke Shaw replaced Tyrell Malacia at left-back but otherwise it seems as though Erik ten Hag was reluctant to tweak a winning team.
MAGUIRE GOES CLOSE
Harry Maguire received a brilliant reception from fans at our open training session on Thursday, and he was also cheered by all but the small pocket of Aston Villa supporters when his name was read out prior to the game. The defender then almost found the net within the first 10 minutes, although his powerful header was palmed behind for a corner by Emi Martinez, as United started strongly.
AN ENGLISH ATMOSPHERE
The crowds in Bangkok and Melbourne were great, but the vibe in Perth was definitely more reminiscent of a typical Premier League match, with vociferous sections of United and Villa support congregated behind each goal. There are good-sized ex-pat followings of both clubs in Western Australia and they certainly made their voices heard, with the Villans rolling out their 'Allez, allez, allez' chant and the travelling Red Army responding by signing some of our regular Old Trafford tunes.
ANOTHER TEAM GOAL
United’s slick interplay and ability to cut through teams is what has arguably caught the eye most this pre-season and the lads added another brilliant goal to our burgeoning tour highlights reel midway through the first half. Jadon Sancho was the man who scored it – his third strike in four games – and the volleyed finish was terrific on the eye, but credit must also go to Luke Shaw for the assist as he drove to the byline and kept his composure to pick out our unmarked no.25. Diogo Dalot, Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford had all played a part in the build-up too, as the ball was swept from our right-back into the Villa net in barely the blink of an eye.
RASHFORD IN THE RAIN
Our second goal came just before half-time, although much of the crowd in the front seats will have missed it, as they were frantically attempting to shelter from another huge downpour which burst through the heavens. Sancho was involved again, teeing up Rashford, although it will go down as a Matty Cash goal, as Marcus’s shot ricocheted off the Poland international, leaving Martinez helpless.
WEATHERING THE STORM
Villa made five substitutions at the break – as opposed to United, who retained the same XI - and one of them paid off virtually immediately, as Leon Bailey carried the ball forward before lashing it into David De Gea’s far corner to halve the deficit. Steven Gerrard’s side then enjoyed their best spell of the match, twice going close as the Reds sought to regain our grip on the encounter.
MAGUIRE’S HEROIC BLOCK
Bailey almost equalised just after the hour mark, taking advantage of the space afforded to him wide on the left. The Jamaica international rounded De Gea and looked set to slot the ball home, only for Maguire to slide in and block the ball with his midriff. It was a timely intervention by the skipper, showcasing his ability to read the game and sniff out danger.
GAME-TIME FOR GARNER
During Friday’s press conference, Erik said that he still wanted to have a look at James Garner, with the young midfielder missing the first three games of pre-season due to injury. He finally got on to the pitch in the 67th minute, when all 10 outfield players were switched around. Jimmy partnered Alex Telles in the centre of the park, with Zidane Iqbal deployed as the more attacking no.10. The Academy product was involved in the thick of the action on the difficult pitch - a timely clearance as the ball looked to be landing at the feet of a Villa player the highlight - and he'll be hoping for more minutes soon.
DENIED AT THE DEATH
The Reds were just seconds away from signing off the Thailand and Australia trip with a perfect record, only for Calum Chambers to head home the equaliser with the last touch of the game. It was a frustrating way to end the tour, but it's still been a highly fruitful fortnight and all attention now turns to next Saturday, when we take on Atletico Madrid in Oslo.