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Ratings: Martial and Fernandes fire United to victory; De Gea, Pogba, Fred and Wan-Bissaka played well – Liverpool now have a lot pressure on them

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Manchester United beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Old Trafford in the first Premier League match of 2021. Anthony Martial opened the scoring with a header in the 40th minute of the match (his fifth goal of the season), assisted by Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Villa then equalised in the 58th minute through Bertrand Traore, assisted by Jack Grealish. Minutes later, Paul Pogba was taken down in the box by Douglas Luiz and a penalty was given which Bruno Fernandes stepped up for, scoring his 15th goal of the season. Villa pressure United at the end of the match with United having chances to extend their lead.

United got off to a good start against Villa, getting on the attack right away but were unable to make it count in the early stages of the match. In the tenth minute, Anthony Martial forced a save from Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez with Harry Maguire having a chance a minute or so later with the goalkeeper picking the ball and dealing with the threat. At the other end of the pitch David De Gea made a good save to deny the visitors from gaining an early goal, giving a corner to Villa, which Jack Grealish took and De Gea punched out of danger. Another corner was given away, which was dealt with by United, putting them on the attack.

United were getting in some positive positions early in this match with United having another chance on goal with Paul Pogba on the advance, allowing Fred to fire his shot on goal, which was rising over the crossbar. Villa then got forward around the 20 minute stage of the match with United gathering possession, giving away another corner, which was cleared by Scott McTominay. Villa started to get comfortable around the 24th minute, getting forward and applying pressure. Eric Bailly blocked an effort to break forward, giving away another corner, which amounted to nothing but put United on the attack once again.

United had another chance before the 25th minute with Marcus Rashford running into the box, firing at goal with the shot being blocked and Bruno Fernandes collection the ball, playing across the box to Pogba, who fired a shot wide of the target. United won a corner of their own in the 29th minute after Pogba was the last United player with the ball, his effort being blocked and sent out of play. The corner came to nothing. Pogba seemed to receive a whack to the face in the 30th minute by Tyrone Mings. The Frenchman’s lip was bleeding, he got some treatment and was able to continue for his club.

Fernandes has an opportunity to break the deadlock in the 37th minute of the match, being played the ball in the area of the box and firing his effort wide of the target. It seems to be the story of the match with both sides having the chances but unable to do anything to get them ahead in the match. Bertrand Traore seemed to be fouled on the edge of the box by Luke Shaw, but went down way too easily. Traore had a mare with the free-kick. United opened the scoring in the 40th minute of the match with Aaron Wan-Bissaka crossing into the box, beating Mings with Anthony Martial heading home at the near post to put United ahead.

There were no changes at the start of the second half of the match with United looking to pull away and take all three points on offer this evening to add some pressure to Liverpool, who do not play until Monday evening. Harry Maguire was booked for a challenge in the 49th minute of the match, the first card to be shown this evening at the Theatre of Dreams. Villa started to get themselves back into the game, pressuring United in their own area. De Gea was tested once again with Ollie Watkins having a shot on goal and the Spaniard athletically pushed the ball over the crossbar to nullify the Villa threat.

Villa equalised in the 58th minute of the match with Wan-Bissaka not defending as he should have. This allowed Grealish to play the ball into Traore, who was in the box, beating De Gea from close range. Eric Bailly was booked in the minutes before the equaliser, seeing both Maguire and the Ivorian on yellow cards. United won a penalty after Douglas Luiz took out Pogba in the box. VAR also ruled the penalty which Fernandes took, scoring his 15th goal of the season. United were still attacking to get the result that they need to keep the pressure on Liverpool, which will show a massive improvement this season.

Solskjaer made his first substitution in the 65th minute with Nemanja Matic replacing Scott McTominay, who played a good midfield battle for United with Matic now helping more defensively to keep United on top in this match. United kept searching for another goal to give them a cushion. Pogba was unlucky as was Fernandes in the 77th minute of the match with the Villa keeper tipping his fierce effort over the crossbar, giving United a corner, which resulted in another shot, this time from Marcus Rashford with United seeking out their third goal of the match. This is a very attacking United, which should please the supporters.

Villa added some pressure in the last ten minutes of the match, winning a free-kick in the 83rd minute with Mings advancing but was narrowly wide of the target to level the scoreline for the visitors. Solskjaer made his second substitution in the 87th minute of the match with Daniel James replacing Fernandes. Almost immediately the Welsh winger got into the Villa box, launching his shot at Martinez, which did not really test the goalkeeper and was easy for his to gather. In the final minutes of the match, before added time, both Luke Shaw and Matic were booked. Five minutes of time was added onto the end of the match.

Villa threw everything they had at a second equaliser in the match to share the points, but it was not working for them. In the fourth minute of added time, Solskjaer made his third and final substitution with Axel Tuanzebe replacing Fred, putting an extra defender on the pitch to gather up the pressure laid on by the visitors. It did not work for Villa as United won all three points and now were level one points with Liverpool, separated by goal difference (plus eight) with the Scouse team still to face United this season and with United having that match against Burnley in hand as Liverpool will have played one more on Monday evening.

Manchester United

1 David De Gea

Made a great save to deny Villa in the first half of the match, making another to deny them again early in the second half. Commanded his area well with Villa adding late pressure with a free-kick with Mings on the advance but narrowly wide.

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29 Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Got his second assist of the season after playing the ball into Martial who headed the first goal in the 40th minute of the match. Defensively, he did what he needed to, offering plenty in attack too. Made a mistake for Villa's goal - he should have been better there.

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3 Eric Bailly

Played well defensively and blocked many chances that Villa had. Was booked in the second half, which was unfortunate as I think he got the ball.

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5 Harry Maguire

Booked in the second half of the match meaning he is one more away from a suspension so will need to keep his head. Played a good game defensively and led his side to the finish, which is expected.

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23 Luke Shaw

Played a good game defensively and got forward a lot of the time. United were using both he and Wan-Bissaka as the attacking width at times, which seemed to work for United. Shaw was booked in the late stages of the match.

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39 Scott McTominay

Did well in the midfield but did not get a goal or an assist, which was not really expected to be fair. Came off in the 65th minute as United had just taken the lead again with Matic replacing him.

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17 Fred

Had a good game and could have scored in the first half after Pogba left the ball with the Brazilian running in and striking it. However, it was always rising over the crossbar, which was a shame. Played an energetic match and will win plaudits for his performances this season.

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6 Paul Pogba

Played some good football in midfield and was one of the players involved in United taking the lead five minutes from the end of the first half. He has a good foot on him for scoring a goal but it was not working for the Frenchman. He did win a penalty for United, which saw his club take the lead for the second time in the match.

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18 Bruno Fernandes

Scored his 15th goal of the season with another penalty after Pogba was fouled in the box. The Portuguese magnifico had a good game. pulling the string for United at times and covering a lot of the attacking areas of the pitch. Had a fierce strike on goal late in the game but the keeper tipped it over the crossbar for a corner. Was replaced by James in the 87th minute of the match and did not seem to happy about it with United pressured in the match, despite still leading.

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9 Anthony Martial

Scored his fifth goal of the season by firing United ahead in the 40th minute of the match. The Frenchman will need to keep scoring in order to catch up to Fernandes and Rashford this season.

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10 Marcus Rashford

Had plenty of chances throughout the match but did not seem to be lucky with them. He kept pressuring Villa in the late stages of the match as United looked to tip the pressure on Liverpool.

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Substitutes

31 Nemanja Matic

Replaced McTominay 65'. Came on to cover the defence in midfield with McTominay tiring in the second half.

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21 Daniel James

Replaced Fernandes 87'. Came on late to add some pace and pressure to the Villa defence. Almost instantly got up front and unleashed a shot towards the goalkeeper but did not get a lot on it and it was easy to gather.

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38 Axel Tuanzebe

Replaced Fred 90+4'. Came on at the death to add more defensive ability to thwart the Villa pressure as they sought another equaliser.

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Goals: Anthony Martial 40′, Bruno Fernandes 62′; Bertrand Traore 58′

Assists: Aaron Wan-Bissaka 40′; Jack Grealish 58′

Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay (Matic 65′), Fred (Tuanzebe 90+4′), Pogba; Fernandes (James 87′); Martial, Rashford

Substitutes Not Used: Henderson; Telles; Mata, Lingard, Van de Beek; Greenwood

Bookings: Harry Maguire 49′, Eric Bailly 55′, Luke Shaw 89′, Nemanja Matic 90′

Written by John Walker

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