In a closely-fought game in the 2020-21 Premier League at Old Trafford, Manchester United edged out Aston Villa 2-1, thanks to a second-half penalty from Bruno Fernandes. The win puts Manchester United in second place in the Premier League - level on points with leaders Liverpool - while Aston Villa slip to sixth.
The game was a back-and-forth one from the off, with both sides attacking the other with purpose before Manchester United opened the scoring late in the first half. Anthony Martial strode ahead of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa to head home, but Villa hit back early in the second.
A poorly marked free-kick allowed Jack Grealish to send a beautiful cross into the Manchester United box, and Bertrand Traore was on hand to slide the ball home. Just three minutes later though, Manchester United moved ahead again from the penalty spot following a foul by Douglas Luiz on Paul Pogba.
On that note, let us have a look at five talking points from Manchester United’s win over Aston Villa.
#1 Manchester United are emerging as darkhorses for the Premier League title
The win over Aston Villa was Manchester United’s eighth in their last ten games. They are now level with Liverpool at the top of the table and haven’t been beaten since their loss to Arsenal on November 1st.
So can Manchester United really win the 2020-21 Premier League title?
Based on their performance against Aston Villa, the answer has to be no. Manchester United were largely outplayed by Villa for swathes of the game and had to do backs-to-the-wall defending; the goal they did concede was because of terrible defending.
Sure, there were a handful of excellent chances that Manchester United did miss – Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saved brilliantly from Bruno Fernandes in the second half. However, overall the game was an even one, and Manchester United certainly didn’t look like champions elect.
Nevertheless, United do seem to have got into the habit of winning matches without playing well and having a recognisable tactical style.
It’d arguably be a sad indictment of the Premier League if a side like Manchester United were to win the title – they’re essentially relying on the brilliance of individuals and little more – but stranger things have happened.
#2 Manchester United won the game off a contentious penalty
When referee Michael Oliver awarded Manchester United a penalty for Douglas Luiz’s foul on Paul Pogba, there wasn’t much argument from Aston Villa’s players. VAR did check the incident, and it didn’t take long to confirm the spot-kick, which was duly converted by Bruno Fernandes.
However, was it really a foul worthy of a penalty? In reality, it was an incredibly soft call. Luiz essentially held Pogba’s arm for a split second, and as he let go, the Frenchman tumbled to the ground.
Interestingly, later in the match, Ezri Konsa grabbed Pogba in a much more physical manner – but this time, the midfielder shrugged the Villa player off and stayed on his feet.
There’s no disputing that nine times out of ten, a penalty is awarded for the kind of challenge Luiz made on Pogba. In fact, Eric Dier was penalised for a very similar challenge on Pogba when Tottenham played Manchester United last June.
Modern-day Premier League stars probably shouldn’t go down under such circumstances. However, the reason they do so is because referees never seem to spot fouls unless a player hits the ground. That in turn allows for soft penalties like the one Manchester United won the game off.