Adnan Januzaj’s first half strike proved to be enough as Manchester United edged past Aston Villa 1-0 in their Premier League clash this evening.
The opening exchanges passed largely without incident, although both sides did knock the ball about well. Memphis Depay whipped in a dangerous free-kick after 15 minutes but the unmarked Morgan Schneiderlin could not quite get a good connection on it. The deadlock was finally broken by Januzaj, who slotted in after being wonderfully found by Juan Mata.
Villa responded reasonably well to the goal and were unlucky not to get a penalty before the break when Matteo Darmian wrapped his hand around Micah Richards’ neck following a corner.
Villa made a good start to the second half and perhaps should have equalised when Gabriel Agbonlahor’s free header went straight into the hands of Sergio Romero. It was an alarming period for United but they settled down when Louis van Gaal introduced Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ander Herrera on the hour mark. Memphis Depay really should have put the game to bed soon after when played clean through but he fired the wrong side of Brad Guzan’s post. Despite the bad miss, United managed to see out the win.
Januzaj has been linked with loan moves to Sunderland and Everton in recent weeks but Louis van Gaal made a huge statement of intent by including him in the starting XI against Villa. It was a gamble but the Belgian repaid van Gaal’s faith in resounding style by grabbing his first goal in 1169 Premier League minutes. The fact that he turned Manchester City graduate Richards inside out before scoring made it that much sweeter.
Januzaj simply has to take any opportunities he gets this season and he certainly did that against Villa with the strike. Although he otherwise struggled to make an impact before coming off after an hour, that was true of many of his teammates. Van Gaal will be pleased Januzaj provided a pivotal moment in the fixture.
The centre-back put in an imperious display against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend and he continued his good form against Villa. Smalling made some good interceptions, was rarely beaten and generally looked calm and composed on the ball. He even pulled off a few ambitious passes.
There have been numerous calls for United to sign a centre-back this summer but Smalling really is unflappable at the moment and he is undoubtedly van Gaal’s current first-choice central defender. If Smalling can keep himself fit for the majority of the campaign, and that is a very big if, he could really make the position his own this term.
Uninspiring first half – Rooney poor
Januzaj’s goal was the only real moment of class in the first 45 minutes from United, who were otherwise underwhelming. United were sloppy in possession, insipid going forward and sluggish in midfield.
Wayne Rooney, meanwhile, found himself coming deep for the ball far too often and when he did get it his first touch regularly let him down. In short, he was awful.
United were lacking someone who could take the game by the scruff of the neck and it is clear to see why van Gaal wants to sign Barcelona forward Pedro this summer. Hopefully the transfer is wrapped up soon.
Second half substitutions
United continued their poor performance going into the second half and allowed Villa to get in behind on too many occasions. Van Gaal clearly had enough of what he was seeing and took Michael Carrick and Januzaj off for Herrera and Schweinsteiger.
Schweinsteiger’s experience seemed to calm United down and they looked more creative and threatening as soon as he came on. Herrera also played his part in giving United an element of control. It was a swift and decisive change from van Gaal which turned the tide in United’s favour.
Poor performance but three points
United were far from impressive against Villa but managed to get the three points and that’s all that matters. After last season’s poor start, it is good to see United getting victories under their belt, no matter how they get them. Of course, performances will need to improve as the season goes on but two wins out of two will do for now.