REPORT: ASTON VILLA 0 MANCHESTER UNITED 1
Scorer: Januzaj (29′) | 14 August 2015 | Villa Park | Attendance: 42,200
Adnan Januzaj justified his recall to Louis van Gaal’s starting XI on Friday by scoring the only goal in Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Aston Villa in the Barclays Premier League.
The Reds are now unbeaten in 20 top-flight matches at Villa Park in a run that stretches all the way back to September 1996. The victory also means United have tallied six points from six following two tricky opening fixtures, which is crucially five points more than the total registered at this stage of the last campaign.
The match was notably moved to Friday night due to a heavily-policed event being held in Birmingham on Saturday and, although many fans were late to the stadium following traffic issues, most supporters at Villa Park appeared to enjoy the novelty of such scheduling judging by the raucous atmosphere.
Van Gaal made just one change to his starting XI by selecting Januzaj in place of Ashley Young, with the Belgian forward playing in the hole behind Wayne Rooney, while new signing Memphis Depay performed out wide on the left, a position in which he excelled for PSV Eindhoven.
United created the first chance on 15 minutes as Memphis hit an inswinging free-kick that evaded all Villa defenders and bounced towards Morgan Schneiderlin at the back post, where the French midfielder shaped his body to glance an awkward header wide of Brad Guzan’s goal.
The Villa goalkeeper was called into action again moments later as he beat Memphis to an important 50/50 challenge. The Dutchman was active throughout the first half, as the no.7 created another opportunity for himself on 22 minutes when he intuitively drifted inside from the left wing to exchange passes with captain Wayne Rooney before hitting a deflected shot wide of goal.
United dominated possession in the opening half an hour and deservedly broke the deadlock from an excellent passing move. It began with Januzaj switching the ball to the left and ended with the recalled Belgian latching onto Juan Mata’s through-ball to calmly round Micah Richards and slot a deflected finish into the bottom corner, vindicating the manager’s decision to start him at Villa Park. It was Adnan’s first competitive goal since a 4-0 win over Newcastle on 5 April 2014.
Aston Villa 0-1 Manchester United
Neither manager made changes at the half-time break but Villa appeared to play with much more urgency in the opening exchanges of the second half and could have levelled when Jordan Ayew pounced onto an unusually wayward pass from Mata to wastefully blast a shot high over Romero’s goal. The Argentinian goalkeeper was then forced into his first real save of the match on 55 minutes, when he impressively grasped both hands around Gabriel Agbonlahor’s powerful header.
With Villa in the ascendancy and the home fans in fine voice, Tim Sherwood intervened and sent Rudy Gestede onto the pitch in place of former Manchester City midfielder Scott Sinclair. Van Gaal also made two changes on the hour mark as Ander Herrera and Bastian Schweinsteiger both came on for Januzaj and Carrick, perhaps with a view to regaining control of an increasingly frantic match.
Memphis could, and perhaps should, have scored his first-ever goal for the club when he was put through thanks to a delightfully accurate pass from Mata, though the Dutch forward’s first-time shot unfortunately flew just wide of Guzan’s left post. Ashley Young took his place on 82 minutes and, as ever, the former Villa star was somewhat harshly booed by the supporters who used to cheer his name at Villa Park.
In the end, despite Villa’s late push for an equalizer, United held on to a relatively straightforward victory that will no doubt boost the players’ confidence levels ahead of Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League play-off match against Club Brugge, an occasion that is of great importance to the club this season.
Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Richards, Clark, Amavi, Veretout (Sanchez 77′), Gueye, Westwood, J.Ayew, Agbonlahor, Sinclair (Gestede 59′). Subs: Baker, Richardson, Hutton, Sanchez, Kozak, Bunn.
Booked: Ayew, Gueye
United: Romero, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw, Carrick (Schweinsteiger 60′), Schneiderlin, Mata, Januzaj (Herrera 60′), Memphis (Young 82′), Rooney: Subs: Johnstone, McNair, Chicharito, Valencia.
Booked: Herrera, Darmian