Six things learned as Manchester United draw 2-2 with Aston Villa

Manchester United have given up a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Aston Villa in the Premier League at Villa Park.

Bruno Fernandes’ early free-kick caught Emi Martinez out and the Argentina international fumbled it over the line to hand United the lead before the Portuguese midfielder smashed home in the second half to double the advantage.

Jacob Ramsey pulled one back on 77 minutes and debutant Philippe Coutinho levelled not long after to cost United two points.

Here are six things we learned from the second meeting between the sides in a matter of days…

Ronaldo still absent

Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images


Cristiano Ronaldo was in training earlier this week but was left out of the squad completely here.

Ralf Rangnick said that the Portuguese superstar is still struggling with a hip injury which left him unable to train on Friday.

Marcus Rashford has a dead leg and Aaron Wan-Bissaka is ill so neither Englishman was included in the squad either.

It is to be hoped that Ronaldo can return against Brentford on Wednesday night, especially after the confidence hit taken by giving up control of the game here.

Rangnick sticks with 4-2-3-1

Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

Rangnick stuck with the same approach here, with Bruno Fernandes once again fielded as the number ten. The Portuguese looks more comfortable there than he does coming from one side.

The switch helped United race into an early lead, just as they did in the FA Cup, but this time, it allowed them to make the most of the space Villa were leaving more regularly.

It remains to be seen if this is just an approach to counter Villa’s strengths, or a more regular system the German is planning to use.

Rangnick puts faith in Elanga

Photo by LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images

Jadon Sancho was fit to return to the matchday squad but Rangnick put his faith in Anthony Elanga on the left of the United midfield.

It was his first start of the season and deserved reward for a strong pre-season and some impressive cameos since the German came in.

Elanga did not look overawed, and drove forward with purpose on a number of occasions and went close with a shot which was blocked in the first half.

United’s frontline has been lacking verve and directness for much of the season, and it was down to Elanga to provide it here, which made it a surprise that he was the first player replaced when Rangnick started to make changes.

Photo by LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images

United fail to hold out

Even when United play well and deserve to be ahead in games, they tend to need David de Gea to play well to preserve a lead.

That was the case again here, and although there were no absolute heroics, there were smart saves from Emi Buendia and Lucas Digne in the first half and Jacob Ramsey in the second.

That prompted Roy Keane in the Sky Sports studio to say that de Gea is back to his very best, with the Irishman having been critical of the stopper before.

And when it looked like United had got themselves into a commanding position – helped by de Gea – they let Villa back into the game far too easily.

With the Villa Park crowd up and midfielders bombing forward, United were pulled out of position at will and within minutes, three points had turned into one.

United do not build on positive signs

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Just as they did at Old Trafford on Monday, Villa came out after the interval with renewed energy, looking to get back into the game.

Again, United struggled to match their aggression and intensity and could not keep much of a measure of control in the game, but recovered within 15 minutes.

From then, there were opportunities to break because Villa pushed their full-backs forward, but when United got into the right areas they tended to shoot narrowly wide, with Elanga and Mason Greenwood culprits until Bruno’s second goal.

United are still striving to put together a really strong 90 minute performance under Rangnick. There were improvements here in terms of pressing and countering at times in both halves before United essentially hit self-destruct and failed to capitalise on them.

Bruno gets a boost

Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

Fernandes wore the captain’s armband in the absence of Harry Maguire – who was on the bench – and Ronaldo.

If there was an element of fortune about his first goal, given Martinez’s mistake, Bruno still deserves some credit for his quick thinking.

His second goal was an even more emphatic finish, as United pressed Villa high up the pitch before breaking into a dangerous area.

Fernandes has looked low on confidence lately but he showed no signs of that here, smashing in off the bar to make it 2-0 and spark wild celebrations in the away end.

That should give Fernandes a boost he has looked like he needs at various times in recent months and the Portuguese playmaker had the United faithful signing his name once again long before the end here.

That was when everything was plain sailing and the team performance took a turn for the worst. Bruno will be as frustrated as anyone with the collapse, but there was plenty for him to take from this game individually.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.