Football

‘Punished by our mentality’ – Five things we learned from Aston Villa 1-2 Man Utd

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag

Scott McTominay came off the bench to secure a crucial victory in the race for Champions League football as Manchester United beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Villa Park.

Here’s five things we learned from an entertaining encounter…

Villa left to rue their wastefulness and lack of composure

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Excluding a sloppy start to the game, Aston Villa were the better side for the majority of it and will be frustrated they did not manage to take three points, let alone one. They created more than enough to win the game, with Ollie Watkins and goalscorer Douglas Luiz both spurning great chances in the second half and they also lacked composure in the final third when it came to playing the last pass. Ultimately Villa were made to pay by a ruthless Manchester United side who despite being second best, took their two big opportunities.

Unai Emery even went as far to say it was one of his side’s best performances under his management: “I want to tell you I am very proud of our work,” he said. Very proud of everything we planned before, we were doing on the pitch. We took control. We created more chances than them. We deserved it more than them. We conceded not a lot of chances from them. They were clinical.”

Where would United be without McTominay’s goals?

Scott McTominay sometimes comes in for criticism for his lack of overall involvement in games but as long as he keeps scoring like he has done this season, there will be a place for him at Man Utd. The 27-year-old was thrown on with just over 15 minutes remaining by Erik ten Hag and the super sub once again popped up in the box with a brilliant close-range finish, powering a header past Emi Martinez from Diogo Dalot’s cross to score his eighth of of the season in all competitions. He has become a crucial option for ten Hag this season and his goals have played an important part in keeping United in the race for Champions League.

Dalot doing everything to keep his place in the team

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With Aaron Wan-Bissaka missing out because of a setback in his recovery from injury, Diogo Dalot again started at right-back and is certainly doing everything in his power to ensure he keeps his spot when Wan-Bissaka does return to fitness. The Portuguese defender was solid defensively and is a threat going the other way too, brilliantly setting up McTominay for the winner with an excellent cross.

Man Utd are still a work in progress

Man Utd have certainly turned things around recently in terms of results, winning five of the last six games in all competitions, but their overall performance level still has plenty of improvement required if they are to get back to the top. The intent from ten Hag’s side was clearly to try and control the game but United struggled to do that, with the Red Devils boss highlighting poor decision making and mentality as the reason for letting Villa back into the game when his side were ahead.

“We have to improve our game,” ten Hag said. “We’ve seen that today. The first 20 minutes, for me, were very good and then when we were winning the game, we gave away the initiative. We gave them too much which, for me, was unnecessary and finally we got punished by our mentality.”

The Premier League’s elite sides this season – Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal – all have the ability to control games much better than United and ten Hag knows his side must improve when it comes to staying in command if they are to truly progress.

The race for Champions League qualification will likely go down to the wire

With Manchester United finally taking steps forward, it looks as though the race for Champions League qualification could go right down to the wire. It remains to be seen whether fifth will be enough for qualification but even if it is, the contest still looks incredibly tight.

United are five points behind Villa following their victory and are six behind Spurs in fourth. It looks to be a fierce battle between those three for either the final one or two spots needed to make the Champions League next season but United must maintain their recent upturn if they are to catch both up by the end of the season.

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