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Manchester United 2-1 Aston Villa: 5 talking points as the Red Devils go joint-top | Premier League 2020-21

Scott Newman
Modified 02 Jan 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

#3 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might have stumbled upon the best use of Paul Pogba

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might just have figured out how to best use Paul Pogba.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might just have figured out how to best use Paul Pogba.

Ever since Bruno Fernandes arrived at Manchester United a year ago, questions have been asked over whether the Portuguese international can play in the same side as Paul Pogba. United have been largely successful since that point, but outside of some odd flashes, Pogba has struggled.

Things came to a head last month when the Frenchman’s agent Mino Raiola seemingly attempted to begin to engineer the player's exit from Old Trafford. However, since then, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done something interesting.

Rather than freeze Pogba out from the Manchester United team, the Norwegian re-integrated him into his starting XI, and against Aston Villa, Solskjaer used the Frenchman in a position further forward than usual.

The move seemed to work well for Pogba, as he was involved in most of Manchester United’s best moments of the game. The player won five aerial duels – more than any other player on the pitch – played two key passes, and interestingly, did his defensive duties too with a number of successful tackles and interceptions.

It seems that Solskjaer has found a way to ensure that both Pogba and Fernandes can be effective in the same side. If that’s indeed the case, as it appears to be, Manchester United will be better off for it.

#4 Aston Villa are let down by their set-piece deliveries

Aston Villa
Aston Villa's set-piece delivery - particularly from Bertrand Traore - let them down against Manchester United.

On another day, Aston Villa could have certainly taken at least a point from the game. They matched Manchester United for possession, had 15 shots on goal to their opponents’ 19, and at times, cut swathes through the hosts' defence.

However, one area that let Villa down massively was their set-piece deliveries. Dean Smith’s side had ten corners as well as 22 free-kicks, but outside of a clever free-kick for their goal, were unable to do anything with them.

In one such instance, Bertrand Traore won a free-kick in an excellent position on the edge of the box on the right hand side. That looked like a gilt-edged chance – but Traore skied the dead-ball over the bar, much to the chagrin of his captain Jack Grealish.

To add insult to injury, Manchester United then scored their opening goal moments after David de Gea’s goal kick.

Villa are a side who are always going to gain plenty of dead-balls thanks to Grealish’s ability to win free-kicks; so, they have to start doing more with them. Perhaps when Ross Barkley returns to action, or if Smith recalls Conor Hourihane, Villa might improve in this area.

#5 Aston Villa do not look likely to be relegated this season

After struggling in 2019-20, Aston Villa could have an improved showing this season.
After struggling in 2019-20, Aston Villa could have an improved showing this season.

Considering that they were playing against Manchester United, a team that has been totuted as potential title contenders, it would’ve been hard to believe that Aston Villa only stayed in the Premier League by the skin of their teeth last season.

Dean Smith’s side matched the Red Devils for the full 90 minutes and were hugely unlucky to come away with nothing from the game. The loss was Villa’s first since November 30th, and the only team to really outplay them this season is Leeds United.

So where does Villa’s ceiling lie during the 2020-21 campaign? The start of the season would’ve seen Villa fans content with remaining in the Premier League again, but it seems like at worst, the club could contend for a Europa League spot.

Plenty of fuss has been made around Smith’s recruitment. But that’s fair, as Emiliano Martinez, Matty Cash, Bertrand Traore and Ollie Watkins have been largely impressive, and Smith's tactics also deserve a lot of praise. The likes of Matt Targett, Ezri Konsa and Anwar El Ghazi now look like completely different players as well this season.

Overall, Villa are clearly the Premier League’s most improved side, and it’ll be fascinating to see how far they could go this season. Going by their performance against United, they may not feature in a relegation battle this campaign.

Published 02 Jan 2021, 09:53 IST
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