Scott McTominay was the hero as Manchester United beat Aston Villa 1-0 at Old Trafford in the Third Round of the Emirates FA Cup.
With Old Trafford in full voice seeing opposition manager Steven Gerrard copping some early flack with a few choice words directed at him from the home faithful, it was the men in red who started the brighter of the two teams.
United, missing Harry Maguire and Ronaldo due to unavailability, continued with Fred and McTominay in the centre of midfield, with Edinson Cavini preferred in attack, meaning Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood providing the width in Ralf Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2 formation.
Having had their critics of late, the Red Devils started playing with far more width than they have of late, with a clear change in tactics from United manager Rangnick proving successful as Scotland international Scott McTominay opened the scoring in the eighth minute as he rose above a static Villa defence.
The away team soon got into their stride, with a number of long range shots seeing another Scotland international in the thick of it, as the United defence backed off John McGinn who stung David de Gea’s right palm.
As the half wore on, both teams got into their stride but it was the home team who continued to dominate proceedings. With possession a plenty, the width of Rashford and Greenwood and the high pressing of the Manchester United forwards saw Villa go direct in an attempt to beat the Red Devils’ high press led by Uruguay veteran Cavani.
With the half hour mark approaching Villa, showing a better shape when they had the ball, saw a chance from outside the area from Emiliano Buendia after a great one two with Ollie Watkins, before a counter attack saw Bruno Fernandes set up United but Cavani couldn’t take advantage after a block from Villa captain Tyrone Mings.
It was lively England international Watkins, with five goals this season all from inside the box, who was involved once again as Villa went long. Home defender Lindelof’s error led to the Aston Villa striker turning him inside out before beating De Gea with a shot only to be defeated by the woodwork. This spurred Villa into action once again, with the Villains really piling the pressure on looking for the opening. This time, it was Jacob Ramsey who went close, his shot only blocked by the home goalscorer Scott McTominay.
Luke Shaw was the next England international to be involved, as the home team moved the ball noticeably quicker. With his dangerous left foot, he let fly from 25 yards only to see Villa keeper Emi Martinez tip his shot over the bar for a corner as a very entertaining match headed for half time. As both managers looked forward to the half time break, goal scorer and Player of the Match McTominay had a long range volley well held by Martinez, before Portugal international and captain Bruno Fernandes saw his shot clear the bar.
Another opportunity then fell to Marcus Rashford, who after a counter attack was clear of the Villa defence who forced the striker wide when perhaps he should have squared it for Mason Greenwood. As the teams went in at the break, despite Ralf Rangnick’s side being ahead, Villa manager Steven Gerrard wouldn’t have been too down hearted with the way his team has played.
The second half started in the same vein as the first, with both teams looking to attack from the outset. Villa, despite showing more composure on the ball than in the first half, conceded an early corner which Manchester United couldn’t take advantage of with striker Ollie Watkins clearing at the Stretford End.
Villa soon thought it was 1-1. A free kick by John McGinn, won after a foul by Luke Shaw floated over the home defence before Ezri Konsa headed the ball back across goal, with Danny Ings getting the final touch to equalise but a controversial near four minute VAR check disallowed it after a challenge from Jacob Ramsey on Edinson Cavani was picked up.
With both sets of players and fans now in full voice and with referee Michael Oliver needing to keep control of affairs, Fernandes’ challenge on McGinn only added to the drama, with McGinn and the United captain lucky to escape bookings after the Scotland midfielder’s challenge on Fred near the touchline.
The men from Villa Park, as they did in the first half, caused United problems with their possession and good movement and it was Ings again who was involved. Clean through, he chipped David de Gea and then set up Ollie Watkins who saw his goal chalked off for offside.
Villa continued to play on the front foot, and with their tails up, they looked to put Manchester United under pressure on every occasion, resulting in a number of United players give the ball away cheaply. With half hour remaining, it was the turn of young England defender Konsa who strode out of defence and ghosted through before a tame shot failed to trouble the scorers.
It was another defender, this time newly capped Poland international Matty Cash who went close. Cash, after a great pass followed the ball, picked it up on the edge of the box only to see De Gea deflect his shot for another Villa corner. As tempers flared, Michael Oliver dished out a number of yellow cards with Fred, Shaw and fellow full back Diogo Dalot of Manchester United going into the book along with Jacob Ramsey of Aston Villa.
A change of formation from United then saw Donny van de Beek replace the hardworking Cavani as the last twenty minutes approached. With the away side having the lions share of possession, perhaps it was a sign that the home side were happy with the scoreline that they brought on the 24 year old Holland international van de Beek for his fiftieth appearance for the Red Devils.
Marcus Rashford, despite showing some nice touches, wasted another opportunity for United as Villa cleared their lines with the away fans looking on in hope of at least an equaliser. On seventy eight minutes, Steven Gerrard made Villa’s first change, with Buendia replaced by another Dutchman, Anwar El Ghazi.
Having not converted a number of chances, Villa again attacked. In the last ten minutes Ings put Dalot under pressure only for De Gea to come to the rescue as the home side, with Ronaldo missing, lacked a real cutting edge throughout. With home legs looking heavy, a double change for the Red Devils saw Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford replaced by Jesse Lingard and 19 year old Swedish-born Anthony Elanga who impressed in his time on the pitch, as rumours do the rounds of him being loaned out to a Championship club.
For Villa, hardworking Jacob Ramsey was replaced by another 19 year old, winger and England U19 cap Jaden Philogene-Bidace as they looked for a deserved equaliser and as the final stages approached and despite 6 minutes of added time, they couldn’t find a way through the resolute home defence. El Ghazi had Villa’s final chance as he took on the United defence before slicing his shot wide of De Gea’s goal, but it was player of the match McTominay’s goal that proved the difference.