A goal from Anthony Martial and a penalty from Bruno Fernandes sent Manchester United level on top with Liverpool after beating Aston Villa on New Year’s Day at Old Trafford on Saturday. The home side scored on either side of Aston Villa’s Bertrand Traore goal to seal their three points and finish with 33 points from 16 games, same as Liverpool (The Reds on top due to goal difference).
In an entertaining end-to-end opening 45 minutes, both the teams came close to open the scoring. Keepers from both teams were in the thick of things in the opening 15 minutes. Villa keeper Emi Martinez parried away a shot by Martial and David de Gea dived well on to his left to keep out a John McGinn volley.
However, it was the French international who found himself in front of an Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross in the 40th minute. Martial headed in low to draw the first blood. 13 minutes into the second half Traore levelled the score finishing a close range after Jack Grealish picked him out with a low cross.
Three minutes later, Fernandes restored the home side’s lead scoring from a penalty after Paul Pogba was tripped up in the box by Villa’s Douglas Luiz. It was the Portuguese’s 15th goal of the season. Villa were on a five-game unbeaten run themselves to earn a place in the top six, and it reflected why from their second-half start.
United, however, needed a big save from De Gea to keep a Matty Cash shot out, while a brave block from Eric Baily in stoppage time to hang on to their lead.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expressed to Sky Sports, “I didn’t enjoy the last 10 minutes that much because we should have seen the game out in a better way. It seemed like a cup final or the last game of the season, so we need to learn how to play out games better when we’re in the lead.”
Villa boss Dean Smith said to Sky Sports, “First half we were miles off it. The first 15 minutes felt like a testimonial, then they injected some pace into it, and deservedly went ahead. I asked for more at half-time and we deserved to get back in the game. Our goalkeeper has had to make some good saves, but they were all outside the box.”