Manchester City were champions as scores stood for 19 minutes on Saturday and 28 on Sunday, but their wait and the title race goes on, along with Manchester United’s extraordinary away run. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side faced the unwanted prospect of anointing their neighbours but, as they invariably do on the road, they summoned a response, came from behind to beat Aston Villa and postponed any City celebrations.
Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood struck within five minutes and Edinson Cavani added a late third as United made it 25 games unbeaten on their travels in the Premier League. Still more remarkably, perhaps, this was a 10th win this season after trailing. Solskjaer’s team have their imperfections but they can scarcely be said to lack character. Into the second of four games in eight days, when their own realistic chances of regaining the title are virtually none, they nevertheless salvaged a victory that may only delay the inevitable for another two or four days but was laudable nonetheless.
United’s exertions took a toll: Harry Maguire hobbled off, ending his record of never missing a Premier League minute since signing from Leicester and perhaps providing Gareth Southgate as well as Solskjaer with some concern. It may be down to the last men standing to keep City at bay. Solskjaer was already likely to field a weakened team against either Leicester or Liverpool but while he spared the 34-year-old Cavani’s legs for the first hour, two of his regulars had fashioned a comeback before the Uruguayan came on to ghost in and meet Marcus Rashford’s cross with a glancing header.
The more meaningful goals came earlier. Douglas Luiz was unwise enough to shove Paul Pogba and Fernandes extended his 100 percent record against Villa: three games, three penalties scored. This one was rolled past Emi Martinez; unlike Sergio Aguero, the Portuguese did not embrace the Panenka or feel the need to apologise.
Then Greenwood accepted Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s pass, turned Tyrone Mings with an ease that reflected badly on the defender and drilled a low shot in past Emi Martinez. It was his 16th Premier League goal as a teenager, the most for United; Wayne Rooney, Rashford, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo are now in his slipstream.
If United’s more subdued start was understandable, given their exertions against Roma on Thursday, they sprang to life when required and when provoked. Villa were without Jack Grealish for a 12th consecutive game but others are starting to offer the spectacular. It was Anwar El Ghazi at Goodison Park and Bertrand Traore at Villa Park.
The summer signing wriggled away from Wan-Bissaka and Victor Lindelof and unleashed a shot that flew past Dean Henderson; David de Gea had excelled against Roma on Thursday but even he on that form would have struggled to save it. Traore had struck at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day; he almost had a second on this occasion, with Henderson denying him an equaliser, a few minutes after Greenwood’s goal.
Both goalkeepers were need to impress; Martinez had done well to parry Greenwood’s low strike on the stroke of half-time. Henderson saved from Anwar El Ghazi. Villa offered more evidence of why they have troubled several of their supposed superiors but their afternoon had a sour end: Ollie Watkins, another who had not missed a minute this season, got a second yellow card for diving just after Cavani scored the visitors’ third goal. United offered more indications of how they have become so redoubtable on the road under Solskjaer. A blend of counter-attacking, precise penalty-taking, fine finishing and indomitable spirit has brought them a great record on the road and delayed City’s coronation.
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