Manchester United looked to exact revenge against Aston Villa in the team’s final home game of the season before the World Cup kicks off.
United lost in devastating fashion to Villa and were undoubtedly keen to correct Sunday’s mistakes by throwing The Claret and Blue out of the Carabao cup.
Erik ten Hag fielded a much-changed starting XI. Bruno Fernandes, Fred, Scott McTominay, Tyrell Malacia, Victor Lindelof and Anthony Martial came in for Alejandro Garnacho, Christian Eriksen, Casemiro, Luke Shaw, Lisandro Martinez and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively.
Besides Ronaldo, whose absence Ten Hag attributed to illness, the others were all rested and named on the bench ahead of the Fulham clash.
Here are four things we learned from Manchester United’s 4-2 win against Aston Villa
Extremely dull first half
Labelling the opening 45 minutes as boring would be a massive understatement. Watching paint dry would have been a far more entertaining exercise.
United were extremely lacklustre and lacked imagination against a relatively average Villa side that was also heavily subjected to changes by Unai Emery.
Ten Hag’s men had plenty of the ball but did nothing with it. The Red Devils barely created any scoring opportunities and going into the break, only registered a single shot on target.
In the heart of midfield where Fred and McTominay formed the pivot, there was barely any control as witnessed by their constantly losing the ball and needlessly getting bundled off possession by Villa players. They were multiple stray passes that failed to reach their intended targets.
In the absence of Casemiro and Eriksen, the drop-off was incredibly massive. In front of them, Donny van de Beek who played in his favoured number 10 role was equally impactless and failed to stamp his authority into proceedings.
Aside from a few neat and tidy touches, the Dutchman was largely ineffective, as he was against Real Sociedad and Villa on Sunday.
To highlight how uninvolved he was, Van de Beek only managed seven passes in the first half. For context, Martin Dubravka completed eight passes.
🚨📊 Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka (8) completed more passes than Donny van de Beek (7) in the first half of tonight’s Carabao Cup tie between Manchester United and Aston Villa @WhoScored
— UtdPlug (@UtdPlug) November 10, 2022
Van de Beek also only had 11 touches of the ball.
🚨 Donny van de Beek managed just 11 touches in the first-half against Aston Villa. @Squawka
— UtdPlug (@UtdPlug) November 10, 2022
The attack looked out of sorts and in many instances found themselves offside. United found themselves offside six times in the first half.
While Fernandesdid OK on the right wing, Van de Beek culdn’t fill his shoes in the middle and United had no control.
Heading down the tunnel, Ten Hag would no doubt have been disappointed with his players for lacking urgency or any real impetus
Martial vital to Ten Hag and the team
Martial tonight led the line for United and showed supporters just what they have been missing whenever Ronaldo is on the pitch.
The Frenchman’s link-up play and holding onto the ball were on show again as were his passing and technical ability.
Martial found himself on the wrong end of Villa’s defensive line but made no mistake when Fernandes teed up the ball to him on a plate in the 49th minute for United’s equalizer just 19 seconds after Emery’s side had grabbed their opener.
Antony Martial has 6 goal involvements in 6 appearances this season:
🅰️ vs. Liverpool
⚽⚽ vs. Man City
⚽ vs. Omonia
🅰️ vs. Everton
❌ vs. Aston Villa
⚽ vs. Aston Villa
He is alive. 🌟 pic.twitter.com/vJFq1DYJp2
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) November 10, 2022
Ten Hag before the match made no secret of his delight to have Martial back in the starting XI.
He said before the game on the striker, “He really fits well in the style of football for us, so I hope he continues now to stay fit and is more available in the next year. I’m happy he’s here. He had a good pre-season, then he dropped out, found himself back and dropped out again.”
🗣️ Erik ten Hag on Anthony Martial: "I'm happy he's here. He had a good pre-season, then he dropped out, found himself back and dropped out again so, until now, it's been a disappointing season for him and for us as well." [via @footballdaily]
— UtdDistrict (@UtdDistrict) November 10, 2022
Hopefully, Martial starts again against Fulham and picks up where he left off tonight.
United are better without Ronaldo
Even when Martial went off, United looked a better team with Rashford up front. The movement is a lot better without Ronaldo and other forward players clearly seem more free to take responsibility, making the whole attack less predictable.
United more resilient
United’s victory did not come easily at all. Especially in the second half, the Reds had to dig deep and come up with the goals against their stubborn opposition.
After Villa’s first goal, United equalized 19 seconds later – instant response!
Villa soon grabbed another when Bailey’s header deflected off Dalot to go beyond Dubravka’s reach.
Rashford came up with an answer just six minutes later with a brilliantly worked classic bully-centre forward type of goal to draw the 20-time English Champions level.
Fernandes had asked the question of Villa’s defence a few times and finally got on the scoresheet with a powerful shot to put United through to the next round before McTominay got on the end of a superb Garnacho curling cross for the team’s fourth
Certainly, a more resilient and spirited showing from United which was a stark contrast to the defeat against Villa last weekend.
The bravery and the character even in the face of defeat to muster up a fight will certainly not have been lost on the Old Trafford faithful.