Manchester United vs Aston Villa result: Five things we learned as hosts miss chance to go fifth

Manchester United 2-2 Aston Villa: The visitors avoided defeat on the road for only the second time this season in the Premier League in an even clash at Old Trafford

Man United's top ten all time goal scorers

1. Aston Villa’s midfield better than Manchester United’s?

With Scott McTominay unable to play any part due to injury, it was a defensive midfield two of Fred and Andreas Pereira for Manchester United today. Keane/Scholes they are not.

Contrast this makeshift duo with Aston Villa trio and the difference is stark. Injuries have played their part, of course, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s duo is makeshift and unbalanced, without clear quality in either possession or defence.

Villa’s three, conversely, are a three with energy and purpose, and clearly defined roles that provide structure to this Aston Villa side.

Was the midfield picked by the visitors today better than Manchester United’s? Perhaps, and that we are able to ask that question seems an indictment in and of itself. It is not one we should really be asking.

2. Grealish’s obvious qualities have him knocking on England’s door – but where he fits is a question to be answered

It was a quite wonderful opener from Jack Grealish, jinking on to his right foot and curling delightfully into the far corner. Grealish is an accomplished and intelligent footballer to go along with natural pace and aptitude for space, and he should be right in the cut and thrust of selection discussions come next summer’s Euros.

Where the Aston Villa man could miss out, however, is due to his position. The great proponents of his England candidacy have generally touted him as a midfield alternative, but for Villa recently he is thriving on the left.

Versatility is typically seen as a great boon for a player, but it can be curse as well as blessing. If Grealish is seen as a winger, he will struggle to find a home in a squad particularly competitive in that area with Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi’s continued growth. Dele Alli’s resurgence makes the creative midfield role increasingly congested, too.

While having a player comfortable in a number of spots is useful at any tournament, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could serve a similarly dual purpose for Gareth Southgate’s side, and it seems unlikely that Grealish will displace the Liverpool man.

Jack Grealish of Aston Villa celebrates after he scores

3. Manchester United construct a set-piece goal but Villa the architects of their own downfall

Aston Villa were dominant for most of the first half, looking the far more dangerous side and unfortunate that Jack Grealish’s trailing boot saw Trezeguet’s goal chalked off for offside.

But they were the architects of their own downfall as Manchester United levelled. Tyrone Mings has made a couple of errors recently, and his failure to clear allowed Marcus Rashford to win a corner.

United worked it superbly with a short move down the right, creating a different angle for Andreas Pereira to deliver from, with Rashford capitalising on confusion at the far post to head in, via the post and the back of Tom Heaton.

4. Roving Rashford shines in tweaked role

Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford celebrates

Marcus Rashford’s first half was another relatively poor one for a man who seems to have more days off than on in a Manchester United shirt at the moment.

He looked indecisive in the final third and on several occasions failed to commit to his chosen option, missing chances as a result. He nearly contrived to miss the simplest of headers for the leveller, too, fortunate in the end for the helping shoulder blade of Villa’s Tom Heaton.

In the second half his role appeared to be tweaked, moving more centrally and given a freer rein to roam. He looked immediately more effective, picking and choosing his moments to peel wide or burst forward.

Rashford is not your traditional playmaker, but his pace, directness and ability to pose different questions are assets for such a role. It is certainly an option to consider for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – the number ten position remains an issue.

5. Breathless second half breaks open game

The shifting of Marcus Rashford proved an instigator for the contest, in fact, with both sides jolted into life after the interval. With Manchester United hauled out of their shells by a half-time chat and tactical tweak, they took the game forward, and Victor Lindelof’s goal came as momentum built.

But Aston Villa were not to be cowed. They were, perhaps, a touch respectful in the first half, but actioned quickly a movement to get back into the game, and after a short spell of pressure cracked open the United defence.

Tyrone Mings volleyed well on the swivel after United’s offside trap was caught out, and we were back level. The second half continued to rattle along afterwards and both sides had chances to find a winner, but 2-2 was about the right outcome for an even contest.

United miss the opportunity to go fifth in the Premier League table, while Villa’s point leaves them three points clear of the relegation zone.

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