Aston Villa vs Manchester United: Five things we learned from Villa Park

Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 1: Adnan Januzaj strike wins drab affair

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The Independent Online

Manchester United’s title credentials remain shrouded in mystery

A conundrum which rarely used to cause such difference of opinion, the status of Manchester United as title candidates was a question never likely to be solved at Villa Park.

After all, the Red Devils have taken 107 points out of a possible 138 off Aston Villa since the Premier League’s inception in 1992. It’s as much a part of the football mosaic as the sight of Arsene Wenger tearing his hair out on the sidelines, so this narrow victory is nothing to get excited about.

Now they’ve solved the problem of Angel Di Maria, offloaded to Paris Saint Germain for £44m a fortnight ago, the responsibility of chance-creation has fallen directly at the feet of Juan Mata and new boy Memphis Depay.

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The addition of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who exudes such class he could get away with wearing a cravat while reading GQ mid-match, means the wooden foundations of yesteryear have been upgraded with the finest steel money can buy, but flair remains a sticking point for Louis van Gaal’s troops.

Until they learn how to pick the lock of their opponents' defence, in the manner rivals City did so ruthlessly at West Bromwich Albion on Monday night, they appear destined to fall short.

Adnan Januzaj proves his doubters wrong

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It was a sight to satisfy the cynics. Many may even have assumed it was a typing error, but Adnan Januzaj’s name really did feature on a Manchester United teamsheet for the first time since January.

Manager Louis van Gaal was cornered in the Villa Park tunnel to explain himself before kick-off, almost as though he were an unruly headmaster at parents’ evening.

He said: "For me, it is not a big move because he is always training with us and he is fighting for his position. For me it is not a big step."

The 20-year-old is often derided on the terraces – and indeed on social media – but his 29th minute winner for the visitors allowed him to showcase the cool head, all the more remarkable considering his age, which was undoubtedly central to Van Gaal’s thinking.

With his shirt tucked-in, donning plain black boots and a Brylcreemed haircut, Januzaj was like a throwback to a bygone era in the no. 10 role. Ghosting between the occasionally sound, but often hapless, Villa defenders, this was an impressive outing from Van Gaal’s star pupil.

Tim Sherwood was right to place his faith in Micah Richards

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Micah Richards reacts to Manchester United's winner

Speaking at his regular media briefing in midweek, Tim Sherwood insisted that Micah Richards can use his switch to the Midlands as a platform to impress England boss Roy Hodgson ahead of the European Championships in France next summer.

The 27-year-old has stagnated in recent years after showing such electrifying promise at Manchester City. But a brief loan spell with Fiorentina gave him valuable game time, a commodity rarely enjoyed by English players at Eastlands.

Now Villa captain, a clear sign of the faith Sherwood has installed in his new signing, Richards can finally start making amends for three years on the sidelines.

The defensive frailties of old may still remain, as witnessed when Adnan Januzaj skipped inside a decidedly rash slide tackle to covert via the far post, but his leadership qualities are unquestioned. A pivotal year lies ahead.

Friday Night Football flops in front of the cameras

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While Manchester United supporters are unlikely to be caught complaining about the odd scheduling of this clash, for it gives them an extra day of rest ahead of next week’s Champions League qualifier against Club Brugge, television viewers may have other ideas.

The ingredients were all there. Football on a Friday night, under the lights, on the opening evening on the weekend seemed like a brilliant idea. It’s worth noting it was a decision made out of necessity rather than choice, however, as the English Defence League have a gathering planned in Walsall for Saturday afternoon.

But regardless of the rationale, this match proved why the 3pm kick-off on Saturday format works so well. After a mad dash, or slow trudge to the ground, depending on which motorway you took, most of the punters inside Villa Park seemed to be counting down the minutes for home time from the start.

Aston Villa are reluctant to go long to Rudy Gestede

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'Lump it up to the big man', a favourite chapter in the coaching manuals of the 1980s, is a football philosophy which has become about as popular as Jose Mourinho in the Carneiro (or Wenger, or Benitez..) household in modern times.

When Aston Villa completed the £8m signing of Rudy Gestede from Blackburn Rovers, Holte End regulars wondered if his arrival would herald an era of, well, lumping it up to the big man.

The 6ft 4in Benin ace boasts one of the most fearsome aerial records in the land. He showcased those abilities last Saturday with a late winner, in off his head, at Bournemouth to gift Tim Sherwood all three points at the Vitality Stadium on the opening weekend.

The temptation will always linger at the back of his mind as he paces the touchline with a lead to chase but, to his credit, Sherwood wants his side to play football on the floor.

Many have tried and failed to that end, but he's just a man whose intentions are good. It's now up to players like Ashley Westwood and Jordan Veretout to justify his belief in them.

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