Manchester United stumbled to back-to-back draws in the Premier League after being held 2-2 by newly promoted Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The Villans managed to outplay the hosts through chunks of the game, as Jack Grealish’s brilliant effort gave them an early lead before a Tom Heaton own-goal and Victor Lindelof’s strike completed the comeback for the Red Devils. But Tyrone Mings then equalized for the visitors, as United failed to move up into fifth place with another disappointing draw.
Their defensive worries were palpable, but the way Aston Villa bypassed their midfielders with ease caused real problems. With Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City ahead, this was an unfortunate setback to their momentum.
Here are three things we learnt from the eventful draw.
Juan Mata isn’t cut out for Solskjaer’s system
Even after Jesse Lingard had broken his duck by scoring against FC Astana on Thursday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided to run the gauntlet in starting Juan Mata against Aston Villa. It turned out a distasteful decision, as the Spaniard was bullied by Villa’s physicality throughout.
He failed to win physical duels against the much younger Villa stars and barely saw much of possession. Despite moving into space at times, his final delivery was horribly off, with his scuffles frustrating the Old Trafford faithful even more.
Mata is too slow for this fast-paced attacking system and is well beyond his best years. Starting him in crucial Premier League games after this would be extremely foolish from the Norwegian.
Aston Villa’s stars won’t be here for long
Aston Villa arrived at Old Trafford with a sense of fearlessness inscribed in them, as they looked amped in taking the game to the Red Devils right from the get-go. Jack Grealish proved why he’s touted so highly with a sublime curling goal. He was also the most fouled player on the pitch, as United just couldn’t contain his flair on the ball.
John McGinn was tenacious as ever, carrying the ball forward with vigour and creating some decent chances as well. His box-to-box presence is everything United lack. Tyrone Mings kept Anthony Martial quiet throughout the game. His thumping goal was the perfect cherry on top.
What this encouraging performance proved was that these Villa stars are ready for the spotlight. Mings and McGinn will both probably be swooned away next season, while Grealish could leave too. But as long as they’re here, Dean Smith’s side will continue thriving off their brilliance.
Manchester United desperately need to sign midfielders in January
While Fred and Andreas Pereira’s nightmare at Sheffield United was pushed under the rug knowing the Blades’ impressive run this season, they were again carved apart by Villa’s midfielders.
They look clueless and disillusioned as a pair in midfield, allowing the visitors to storm past them to expose their backline. As much as Solskjaer thinks Pereira is improving, he needs to make midfield signings in January.
Be it someone like Sporting Lisbon’s influential Bruno Fernandes or even Declan Rice, they need stronger characters in their midfield core. Unless they sign more influential midfielders, they’ll never be able to attain the ring of dominance Solskjaer craves for.