Manchester United played Aston Villa in Villa Park on Friday, hoping to continue their winning ways and establish themselves as title contenders in this nascent season.
Sergio Romero started in a goal for the Red Devils, as Louis Van Gaal has confirmed that David De Gea will not play any match until the transfer window closes. The back four from their opening match against Tottenham started again, providing a consistency and stability that was unrealized in Van Gaal's first campaign. In midfield, Schneiderlin and Carrick provided cover ahead of the defense as defensive midfielders, while Memphis was placed at left winger, his accustomed position at his former club, Adnan Januzaj started at the central attacking role, and Juan Mata played wide right. Rooney started as lone striker, hoping to find the net for the first time this season, also continuing his chase of United's scoring record.
For the second week in a row, United's attack seemed out of sort as the new additions continue to gel with the returning team members. The defense, however, was nothing short of stout and precise, keeping Villa's attempts on goal from difficult distances and challenging angles. United had an early chance on a set piece struck by Memphis across the box to a wide open Schneiderlin, who misread the bounce on the pass and could not control his header attempt. Memphis produced another near chance with a deft dribble down the left sideline linking up with Rooney, who hit a poor through ball back to the Dutch winger, and putting a shot towards goal that was blocked for a corner. He made another dangerous run into the box for a through pass from Januzaj that led to a wayward header.
With all the pressure they placed on the Villa box, United was bound to break the draw and they found their breakthrough down the left flank. Juan Mata, who played inspired through passes throughout the game, linked up with Januzaj with a delightful ball right into the Villa 18 yard box. Januzaj was left with some work to do before a shot could be put on frame and his touches under pressure were spectacular, as he kept his balance faking a shot, putting the ball on his right foot and placing the shot on frame. The ball deflected off a Villa defender went past the goalkeeper Brad Guzan, hit the right post and went in.
United's only surrendered shot on goal was a header attempt by Gabriel Agbonlahor directed right at Romero, who easily caught the attempt. They also didn't rest on their laurels with the goal in hand; instead they actively sought additional goals, goals that become extremely important for goal differential in the title race. Chances were continually created, but the quality of their final touch was never enough to produce another goal. Juan Mata, the man in form in midfield, produced another brilliant pass to play Memphis through on a breakaway. The Dutch youngster placed his shot past the outstretched Guzan, but narrowly wide of the post, another early disappointment in his young United career. Before his substitution in the 82nd minute, Depay would create another chance, a shot from distance that was caught by Guzan.
While United's defensive efforts have been impressive and resolute so far, the attack leaves a lot desired. Wayne Rooney was never involved in the offense, truly toothless in attack and incapable of linking up with his teammates. The other members of the team were very capable on the other hand. Shaw and Darmian dominated the flanks and Smalling and Blind seem to have a budding partnership in central defense. Carrick did okay in his bit role in central defensive midfield for now, but it is unlikely he will be played often once Schweinsteiger is fully match fit. Schneiderlin turned in another sturdy performance, becoming the defensive spine of the team and warding Villa's approach to the fringes of perceivable chances. Depay showed great potential, but was unable to produce when the pressure rose. Juan Mata turned in a man of the match performance with precise passing from distance as well as in close, except for one miscue on a back pass. Januzaj's goal was the first he's scored since February 2014, a burden he is surely overjoyed to be rid of.
Louis Van Gaal still believes he must do more business in this transfer window, which most likely alludes to the possible purchase of Pedro from Barcelona. With Rooney's slow start, the need for another goal scorer is clearly evident. The David De Gea saga continues as well as Real Madrid continues to lowball United on the Spanish goalkeeper's transfer free, even offering him a 12 million euro signing bonus to see out this season at Manchester United so he can arrive on a free transfer the following season. It also still remains to be seen whether a centerback will arrive this window as the defense seems shored up, but injuries could be crippling so the Dutch manager should desire some reinforcements.
United have a short rest before their next match on Tuesday, a UEFA Champions League play-in match against Club Brugge. The match will be aired on Fox Sports 1 at 2:30 p.m.; coverage begins at 2 p.m.
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