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3 things learned: Manchester United - Aston Villa

Robbie Earle and Liam McHugh recap New Year's Day in the Premier League, headlined by Manchester United's victory over Aston Villa, which puts them behind the league leaders Liverpool on goal difference.

Manchester United - Aston Villa was a brilliant end-to-end clash as Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes sent the Red Devils level on points with Premier League leaders Liverpool.

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Aston Villa played their part in a thrilling game at Old Trafford, as Bertrand Traore equalized and Jack Grealish pulled the strings but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side held on and kept their fine form going as they are unbeaten in 10.

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United move level on points with first place Liverpool and have played the same number of games, while Villa stay on 26 points alongside a host of other teams in the top half.


Three things we learned

1. Man United can hang around at the top: This is not a flash in the pan situation. Even though United have gone 10 games unbeaten, winning eight of those, they always had this in their locker. As long as they can stay relatively steady defensively and aren’t their own worst enemies, they can win any game due to the star players they have in attack. Something happened to their belief after they lost at RB Leipzig to be knocked out in the UEFA Champions League. It was like that disappointment was what they needed to become more focused and start playing from the start, instead of from half time. With Liverpool coming up in a few weeks, that is when we will find out if United are genuine title contenders. Just a few weeks after Solskjaer’s job looked in jeopardy, who would’ve predicted this?

2. Pogba on the left works: His future at Man United is uncertain after the comments from his agent Mino Raiola, but this is exactly the reaction his agent wanted. Since those comments, Pogba has scored multiple goals, won the important penalty kick in this game, and has been strutting his stuff with supreme confidence. Pogba’s skill to set up the move for the first goal is something only he can do. Playing on the left is suiting him well too, just like it did at Juventus, as he can drift inside and pick up space. With United’s two holding midfielders plugging defensive gaps when he does wander from the left, this is how Pogba can have an impact and maybe, just maybe, have a future at United.

3. Adventurous Villa unlucky: They pushed Man United all the way and Jack Grealish was superb, creating numerous chances his teammates couldn’t put away. They can count themselves unlucky to not leave United with at least a point, and Villa gave it a real go. Yes, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez played well, but Villa caused United a lot of problems and they have real quality on the ball. They will beat lots of teams and should take confidence from this game, despite the result.

Man of the Match: Paul Pogba - His tricks and flicks all came off and he was involved in the first and won the penalty for the second. Great display from the left side of midfield.

United started brightly and Emiliano Martinez denied Anthony Martial with a flying save.

The visitors then launched a great counter as Grealish led the charge and Matty Cash’s cross found John McGinn who volleyed superbly on goal but David de Gea saved well.

Villa had to defend for most of the first half as Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford buzzed around in attack, as Fred fired over and Fernandes curled wide.

United then scored the opener with a real moment of quality as Pogba tricked his way out of a tight spot to find Rashford who flicked on for Wan-Bissaka and his cross found Martial at the near post, as Mings missed the ball and the Frenchman nodded home.

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Villa came flying out of the traps in the second half, as De Gea denied Watkins, while Cash and El Ghazi both went close.

Traore then equalized after Wan-Bissaka was caught out trying to stop a quick free kick and Grealish crossed for the winger to finish calmly.

No sooner than they were level, Villa were behind again as Douglas Luiz was adjudged to have fouled Pogba in the box, as VAR checked the decision but there was a small flick on Pogba by Luiz as the Brazilian was caught too tight to the Frenchman in the box.

Fernandes slotted home the penalty kick to put Man United back in front, but Villa kept coming forward.

Grealish’s cross almost found El Ghazi but Wan-Bissaka cleared brilliantly, then Martial and Pogba went close at the other end, while Watkins headed wide.

Cash was denied by De Gea and Bailly blocked Keinan Davis in a wild finish as both teams had chances galore but United held on for a hard-fought win.

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