Manchester United masterclass against Aston Villa puts Manchester City title celebrations on hold

Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani score in comeback win

If there are two Manchester clubs doing something special, United’s remarkable record on the road is stopping City from celebrating. When Aston Villa led, Manchester City were set to become champions. When Manchester United recovered to win 3-1, the title is still mathematically undecided.

“It is very unlikely they won’t get the points they need but we just have to do our jobs the best we can,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

City may yet get a historic treble but United have already become the first team to win 10 Premier League games in a season from losing positions. Solskjaer has emulated his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson by making United the comeback kings again and their return of 25 away Premier League games without defeat represents the second longest in the division’s history.

In Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani, United had three scorers who tend to contribute to those comebacks. They also have a mentality that has produced a habit; a team who can dig their way into trouble can they leap out of it. “We have done it so many times,” smiled Solskjaer.

That spirit may be required to further extend the title race as they play three games in five days. “The boys who played Thursday night and here will not play 90 minutes on Tuesday, that is for sure,” Solskjaer said. “It is physically impossible.”

And this victory came at a cost to them. The usually indestructible Harry Maguire limped off, an ankle injury ending his record of not missing a minute in the Premier League and threatening his participation in Euro 2020. “We have a [Europa League] final to look forward to,” Solskjaer said. “Hopefully it will be with Harry Maguire. It might be a few weeks, it might be a couple of days. Who knows?” A scan on Monday will reveal more.

Villa suffered a loss of their own. Ollie Watkins had also played every Premier League minute. He departed, however, when referee Chris Kavanagh deemed he had dived, showed him a second yellow card and dismissed him at the death. “Ollie said there was slight contact,” Villa manager Dean Smith said.

“I just don't understand the decision-making of the officials and more importantly at Stockley Park. The word I would use is confused because I don’t know where we are with decisions recently.”

It was not his only grievance but his day had begun rather better. City were champions in waiting when they led against Chelsea the day earlier and again when Bertrand Traore conjured a goal out of nothing.

It was first a product of quick footwork, the winger escaping the attentions of Victor Lindelof. The second part was still better, a rising shot from an acute angle that nestled in the top corner. Traore was terrific and Henderson made a fine save from him later, denying the winger an equaliser.

By then, United had struck twice. Douglas Luiz barged into Paul Pogba, he took the opportunity to go down and Fernandes seized the chance to score his 27th goal of the season from the penalty spot. “It looked a pathetic decision to me,” added Smith. “I am fed up with talking about penalty decisions against Manchester United.”

But Villa still have not beaten United at home in the Premier League since 1995, the game that infamously prompted Alan Hansen to declare: “You can’t win anything with kids.”

Greenwood proved himself United’s most prolific kid, his 16th league goal for them as a teenager meaning he surpassed Wayne Rooney’s record. He accepted Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s pass, span away from Tyrone Mings and unleashed a shot that defeated Emi Martinez, who had made a fine save from him earlier.

Cavani had been held back but came on to score his fifth goal in three games. He again displayed his wonderful movement by darting in to meet Marcus Rashford’s cross with a deft header. United had turned a deficit into a win. Again.

Published: May 9, 2021 09:03 PM

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