#3: Traore Magic
Aston Villa’s record against Manchester United is, to put it bluntly, horrific and every time the fixture comes around, Villa fans fear the worst. Sunday’s game against the Europa League finalists was to be no different.
However, like in so many previous fixtures at Villa Park between these two, the fans were given hope. After a tough opening 10 minutes where the visitors dominated possession, Villa grew into the game. They restricted United to pot shots at goal, whilst pressing them to good effect high up the pitch.
Midway through the first half, their good work was rewarded. John McGinn won the ball high up the pitch, then Douglas Luiz found Bertrand Traore with a clever ball forward. Traore turned beautifully and after a botched attempted clearance from Victor Lindelof, fired an unstoppable shot into the far top corner from an acute angle.
It was a moment of pure quality from a player who has enjoyed a pretty decent season overall and if he can start adding more consistency to his game, he could prove to be a very useful player next season.
#2: Five Costly Minutes Of Madness
Villa went into the half-time break 1-0 up and in truth, looked pretty comfortable. The visitors record away from home this season, especially when falling behind, meant that it would require a big effort from Villa to earn all three points. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, but what is most infuriating is how Villa gifted the win to The Red Devils.
Six minutes into the half, Luiz put in a needlessly reckless challenge on Paul Pogba. In the reverse fixture at Old Trafford on New Years Day, the same two players were involved in a controversial penalty where Pogba’s dive gave his team a spot kick. There was no such controversy this time around and there were no complaints when the spot kick was given this time.
After gifting United an equalizer, Villa compounded the error four minutes later with more individual errors allowing the visitors to take the lead. Tyrone Mings tried to nip in ahead of Mason Greenwood to the ball when he should have just held his ground. Greenwood easily turned Mings and the beat Emi Martinez at his near post to put United 2-1 ahead.
If an opposing team with better players than yours carves your defense open with great football, you can make peace with it, but when it’s your own players’ individual errors costing you, it becomes so frustrating to watch. In the second half of this season, too many individual mistakes will have stopped Villa from earning a higher finish in the table.
#1: Yet More ControVARsy
Let’s be honest, Manchester United are more than capable of beating Aston Villa on their own merits - so do they really need a helping hand from shoddy refereeing decisions? In the previous two games against United, they have been given a ridiculous penalty in each game. Whilst there was no doubt about the penalty they were awarded, there are definitely questions as to why Villa weren’t given at least one, if not two penalties.
At 2-1 down, Villa were still in the game. A Ross Barkley corner was half cleared to the edge of the area, where Luiz headed the ball back towards the danger area. It was blocked by the hand of Mason Greenwood, high above his head, and the ball bounced back out the box the safety.
The incident was checked by the seemingly inept officials at Stockley Park, who decided that it did not warrant Manchester born referee, Chris Kavanagh, having another look at it. Whilst there’s obviously no way of proving it, one can’t help but feel that had this happened at the other end of the pitch, Bruno Fernandes would have been tucking away his second spot kick of the afternoon.
The second penalty shout occurred after the game was all but over, with Edinson Cavani’s neat header securing the victory for United. A long ball over the top sent Ollie Watkins through on goal. Running at full pelt, with Dean Henderson coming towards him, Watkins was expecting himself to get clattered. Henderson attempted to pull out of the challenge, but replays show that he clearly catches Watkins on the knee.
Did Watkins go over easily? Yes, but in the modern game that is largely irrelevant, especially considering some of the penalties given this season. To book Watkins for diving, leading to a red card, was an outrageous decision. It should be noted that Watkins didn’t even appeal for a penalty, so how the referee could come to the conclusion that he has dived in order to try and gain an advantage is beyond belief.
Having played every minute this season in the league, Watkins will now miss the Everton game on Thursday, leaving Dean Smith with a choice to make up front. Who will get the nod - Keinan Davis or Wesley? Perhaps Smith changes the system to go with both of them up top? We shall have to wait and see!