As bread goes with butter, a Manchester United victory seems to always accompany a visit to Villa Park. Louis Van Gaal's men went into today's match on the back of a six game winning streak. It seemed that fate had already chosen the outcome of this game, as it always seems to do.
It all started off so nervy for Villa fans. Aston Villa, playing with an experimental formation rallied early after an onslaught by Rooney and pals. With the new 5-2-3 formation used by the Villans, there was some obvious teething problems and rust. The lack of midfield support meant that Fabian Delph and Carlos Sanchez had to endure some early pressure from Manchester's midfielders. The two wing-backs got a lot better as the match progressed, but Lowton will always be Lowton and that does mean 'not good enough'. I would really enjoy seeing what Hutton or Bacuna could do in that position as Ashley Young proved just how crucial that role can be in a match.
Then, if you'll excuse me for using a cliche, the unthinkable happened. Christian Benteke, on the end of a long free-kick found the ball and was surrounded by defenders, but the Belgian forward managed to find the top corner of the net with a delicately placed ball. It was an absolutely magical goal and seeing the vine of it does not do it any justice at all. It came out of nowhere and just seemed to curl inside at the last second.The play of Benteke over the last few games has seriously put him in the shop window and I wouldn't be surprised if The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry snapped up Benteke this summer. He's a wizard, Harry.
Panic resumed later as a stray ball into the box floated over the head of Okore.Thankfully the ever impressive Guzan stretched to save, saving not only the ball, but the confidence of the Villa team. Shortly afterwards, another chance came to the Villa team, but Agbonlahor's touch (maybe we should start a damned hashtag it happens that much) mugged AVFC of another goal. I can hardly fault him for this one though, the man seems to be in the right position all the time and a chance wasted is better than no chance at all.
Going into the first half, the game seemed to be about the battle between the three Villa centre-backs and three of the best attacking players in the world. Okore, Clark and Vlaar managed to shut out Van Persie, Rooney and Falcao for the first forty-five, and look very impressive doing so. Manchester United's attacking edge had been dulled by Villa's eager defence.
The pressure from Villa continued after the break, both Delph and Benteke came very close to extending Villa's lead, if not for a block and a magnificent de Gea save. He's an extremely good keeper and Villa didn't test him enough (there was no way he was saving Benteke's curling shot), but when he was called upon by United, he performed and this time saved them from going two under.
United started the second half pretty good as well. Okore and Guzan came to Villa's rescue as Rooney quite beautifully played Van Persie in. Heartbreak seemed to be on the cards. Ashley Young played a good ball in to Falcao, who netted with his head. When two good players link up like that, there is always going to be a goal. Not to be deterred from the disappointing equaliser, Villa charged on under the roar of the Holte End, but each attempt was halted by a disappointing giveaway or a foul. The match slowed down towards the end as the ball stayed in Villa's half.
It seems that Villa have been on the FA's watch-list for tackles. After a painful collision by Agbonlahor and his mate, Ashley Young, many AVFC fans would have called for a yellow for Young. Lee Mason ran over and sent off Agbonlahor, to the surprise of almost everyone on the pitch and in the stadium. Louis Van Gaal, Paul Lambert and even Ashley Young admitted it wasn't a red card - something the FA will need to look at when they rescind Agbonlahor's card. The one postive that would have came from Gabby's ban is possibly an appearance from Robinson or Grealish, who would probably work wonders in this new system.
Lee Mason seemed to go a bit mad in the late second half. After Lowton was dropped by Tyler Blackett, Lee Mason came over to beak at the foul like a bird of prey. Lowton was rolling on the floor (he was obviously not hurt that much, but player safety is paramount for the officials). Lee Mason instead of checking on Lowton, decided to turn around and book Brad Guzan for coming to take the free kick. I've now watched this incident about five or six times, I've went over the rules of the game, I've studied this incident like a lazy student and I can see no reason why Mason would walk away from a downed player and book his set-piece replacement. Gabby's card will be the talking point, but Guzan's booking was a moment of madness, I'll have to put it down to the psychological phenomenon known as the 'call of the void' and replaced the 'I hold a knife right now and could kill someone' with 'I have a set of cards right now and could book someone'. After the match I pondered getting a takeaway, but was scared that Lee Mason would answer my door and blow his whistle in my face whilst holding that piece of scarlet card up in the air. I'm pretty sure Gabby will wake up in the night, sweating about that. Lee Mason is scary.
The Holte End got on the back of Ashley Young after the sending for a good ten minutes, but I can't blame him, he was marvellous today, unfortunately for the Villa. We need someone like him and towards the end, someone showed echoed Ashley Young with bursts of speed, long shots and deadly passing. Leandro Bacuna. When Bacuna took the ball just outside the box and hit a lethal shot, I'm sure every Villa fan in the world watching the game thought it was a goal. I've never seen a better strike this year than that and it was a shame it just clipped the bar. It was destined for the top corner.
James Wilson would come close for United as he brought memories of Macheda to Villa Park with a dangerous curling shot that found it's home in Guzan's gloves. The American goalkeeper found some form after a few dodgy games and managed to save Villa at the end with his control and dominance in the box.
The very last kick of the game would result in one of Villa's best chances. N'Zogbia and Bacuna would find space on a break, Bacuna squared it for N'Zogbia who missed, but the ball managed to run loose, to the anger of Benteke. Christian Benteke screamed at Bacuna after the blown chance, but I can't blame Bacuna for playing two people in, N'Zogbia was unlucky to miss the ball and Benteke should have carried on running for the tap-in. His outrage at Bacuna showed the immaturity hasn't left him and I hope he can show a lot more effort on these situations in future as they are the game-breaking chances that separate him from the upper echelon of strikers. I'm sure Van Persie, Zlatan or Suarez would have been in the right place for that. Bacuna went for the easy chance as most people would, don't blame him Christian!
To wrap up, this was an amazing performance in a new system for Lambert's men. A huge amount of positives could be seen as Delph came back from injury with another good performance. Carlos Sánchez is always improving and looks to be a key piece of the Villa team going forward. N'Zogbia showed why he shouldn't be in the team, always offside or passing to no-one and Bacuna gave his case for inclusion in the next match. If we play the same formation against Swansea, I can see us winning it with ease. Okore and Clark became a trio with the addition of Ron Vlaar and held strong against United, no reason they can't do that again on Boxing Day. A positive performance against a team who should have beaten us, let's see that confidence going forward!
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