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Five talking points as Man Utd beat Aston Villa 2-1 to go level with Liverpool


Manchester United went level on points with Premier League leaders Liverpool with a 2-1 win over Aston Villa on New Year’s Day.

Anthony Martial gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side a first-half lead at Old Trafford, heading home after Tyrone Mings failed to clear a cross whipped in by Aaron Wam-Bissaka.

Villa came out fighting after the break with Jack Grealish causing problems down United’s right flank, and it was the England man who took advantage of disarray in the home defence to set up Bertrand Traore’s equaliser.

But United were back in front within three minutes when the ever dependable Bruno Fernandes fired home a penalty won by Paul Pogba, and they withstood a fightback from Villa to pick up the three points.

Here are five talking points after United started 2021 in style.



Bruno Fernandes fires home United’s winner from the penalty spot

Title race is on

United are now well and truly in the title race after going level on points with Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.

Jurgen Klopp’s side have a far superior goal difference, but have dropped points in their last two games, while winning is what United do best at the moment.

United are away to Burnley in their next league game – five days before what is shaping up to be a huge showdown against the reigning champions at Anfield.

With the Red Devils having won four of their last five Premier League games, the clash at Anfield could have enormous implications for the title race.

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Paul Pogba won the penalty for United’s second

Pogba’s key role

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer found a different role for Paul Pogba as speculation continues to surround the midfielder’s future.

Pogba had been played in a deeper midfield role against Wolves in midweek, and struggled to impose himself on the game as United left it late to snatch a winner.

But he was crucial to the victory over Villa after starting on the left-hand side of the Red Devils’ attack, with Marcus Rashford switched over to the right flank.

The change to the team set-up was instrumental in United’s first-half opener.

Pogba beat his man with an exquisite flick before finding Rashford on the right, with the striker releasing Aaron Wan-Bissaka who fired in the cross for Martial to head home.

The French midfielder then played a key role in United’s second, winning a penalty within two minutes of his side conceding an equaliser.



Bertrand Traore’s equaliser punished disarray in the United defence

Defensive problems haven’t gone away

United have been plagued by defensive mishaps this season, and those problems haven’t gone away despite a fine run of results recently.

Solskjaer’s side made it much harder than it needed to be when they conceded an equaliser just before the hour-mark.

With United’s players trying to delay a Villa free-kick, Wan-Bissaka left Grealish in acres of space and the midfielder showed why is so coveted as he found Traore with a pinpoint cross.

Luckily for United, with the likes of Rashford, Fernandes and Martial there are always goals in this team.

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Jack Grealish was involved in everything Villa did well in the second half

Grealish shows his class

Grealish’s cross for Traore’s goal wasn’t the first time he had split United’s defence in search of an equaliser.

The Villa star took the game by the scruff of the neck early in the second half as he looked to get his side back in the game.

Minutes before he set up Traore’s leveller, he went on one of his marauding runs down at United’s right flank and fashioned a similar chance for Ollie Watkins.

The Villa striker rose well to fire a header on goal, and David de Gea produced a fine reaction save to tip over the bar.

Grealish wasn’t done after Villa’s equaliser, and carved out several more chances after United regained the lead.

Incidentally, De Gea was playing his 327th Premier League game – putting him fifth on United’s all-time list and breaking Roy Keane’s record for the most the Red Devils appearances in the division by a non-British player.



Anthony Martial heads home United’s opener

Lingard on the bench

Going into the Villa game, Jesse Lingard hadn’t played in the Premier League since the final day of last season.

The 28-year-old has been linked with a move away in the January transfer window, with his Old Trafford career having stalled after showing early promise.

It remains to be seen whether Lingard’s involvement on the bench is an indication that Solskjaer is ready to re-integrate into his first-team plans – or whether the manager is hoping for an opportunity to put the former England man in the shop window for a loan move.

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