Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Manchester United’s league position is not a concern after a home draw with newly promoted Aston Villa left them ninth after 14 games.
Tyrone Mings’ first Premier League goal levelled the scores shortly after Victor Lindelof had given United a 64th-minute lead, though, the England defender did have to wait to see if it would be ruled out by the assistant video referee (VAR).
But the assistant referee kept his flag down and VAR proved he was correct to do so as Villa avoided defeat at Old Trafford for the first time since 2009.
Villa skipper Jack Grealish gave his side a deserved lead with a magnificent curling shot after 11 minutes only for United to equalise against the run of play just before the interval when a Marcus Rashford header hit the inside of a post before bouncing in off the back of former United keeper Tom Heaton.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men pushed forward looking for a late winner but Anthony Martial failed to convert their best chance as United had to settle for a second successive draw against a promoted team.
United have now taken just 18 points from their opening 14 league games. That means Solskjaer must guide them to wins in their next three games if they are to surpass the 26 points Jose Mourinho amassed when he was sacked after 17 games in 2018-19.
“I wouldn’t have sat here and talked about us being fifth if we had got that one goal extra, so the league table at this point is not the biggest concern because it is so tight,” Solskjaer said.
“I just need to make sure that we get performances and get three or four performances after each other – and results.
“So far we have had the lead in so many games and we haven’t been able to win those games, six or seven times we’ve been 1-0 up, or 2-1, or 3-2 like last week.
“We should be better at seeing those games into wins.”
No improvement from United
Seven days ago, Solskjaer said he could have replaced all 10 outfield players after an especially dismal first half at Sheffield United.
The general feeling in the media room – from journalists, former players and staff alike – was that their performance before the break here had been no better.
There was no obvious benefit gained from Solskjaer’s decision to excuse his entire starting line-up, plus coaches Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna, from the draining midweek Europa League trip to Astana.
United’s equaliser came against the run of play and the lack of invention in midfield contrasted sharply with the threat posed by Grealish.
There were sporadic boos for the home side at the final whistle but in a period where Tottenham and Arsenal have both sacked their managers, United are behind both in the table, putting Solskjaer under scrutiny, even if the United hierarchy remain supportive of the Norwegian.
Grealish a throwback
With his socks rolled down and his shorts pulled up, Grealish looks like a throwback to a different era.
He plays a bit like it too. Pulling wide to the left of a three-man support line to lone striker Wesley, the Aston Villa skipper seems a peripheral figure for much of the time.
But somehow, when Villa spark into life, he is central to it. United’s midfield were petrified every time Grealish ran at them. Most of the time, their only way of stopping the danger was to foul him.
For the goal, Grealish chased down an over-hit Anwar el Ghazi cross before fronting up Andreas Pereira on the edge of the penalty area, beating him with a deft feint to the right and finally sending his curling shot over David de Gea and into the roof of the United keeper’s net.
It was magnificent, way beyond anything produced by the hosts during another tepid 45 minutes.
Gareth Southgate was not at Old Trafford to witness it but it was another of those moments that makes you wonder how Grealish is still waiting for a senior England cap.
Had the 24-year-old turned home Trezeguet’s deflected shot shortly before Lindelof’s header, it would have been the first time he had ever scored twice in a game.
‘Multi-year squad evolution analysis’
With his best two midfielders, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay, both missing through injury, Solskjaer again had to rely on Andreas Pereira and Fred in his midfield.
Both have been heavily criticised this season as part of an underperforming squad containing players some feel are simply not good enough who have, nevertheless, been awarded new contracts in recent times.
Pereira signed a four-year deal in the summer. Phil Jones, the one man dropped from last week’s largely dismal draw at Sheffield United, was given a new four-year deal in February.
Both decisions seem odd. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward explained the principle in an interview with fanzine ‘United We Stand’.
“It’s a multi-year squad evolution analysis,” he said.
“It’s hard enough to get three players done in a transfer window. To get six or seven done is extremely difficult if you are getting proper talent.
“If you choose to churn every player because they are not good enough and you’re not extending contracts, you are putting yourself at risk of execution. Sometimes you have to take a broader view.”
Man of the match – Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
‘We huffed and puffed’ – what they said
Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings: “It’s a tough point and a well-deserved point. We made a few mistakes in the build-up to their goals, and they had a few chances, so we are satisfied with a point.
“I thought I was onside for my goal, but I didn’t want to celebrate just in case. I got back into position.”
Manchester United defender Harry Maguire: “As a team we are improving but we want to improve a lot more. To not win games at home is disappointing. We huffed and puffed but we need to do better and Wednesday [home to Spurs] gives us a great opportunity to put that right.
“We were poor after their first goal. It knocked us and we were edgy and nervous. To concede straight away after going in front its disappointing.”
United fail to keep clean sheet again – the stats
- Manchester United have won just 18 points in the Premier League this season; their fewest after 14 games of a top-flight campaign since 1988-89 (18), when they went on to finish 11th in the table.
- Aston Villa avoided defeat against ‘big six’ opposition for the first time since November 2015 in the Premier League (0-0 v Man City) – they had lost each of their previous 11 such games coming into today.
- Since keeping three consecutive Premier League clean sheets in February, United have only kept two in their last 25 games in the competition (36 goals conceded).
- Excluding penalties, Aston Villa have conceded more goals from set-pieces than any other team in the Premier League this season (nine).
- There were just 112 seconds between Manchester United taking the lead through Victor Lindelof (63:21) and Tyrone Mings levelling for Villa at 2-2 (65:13).
- Victor Lindelof’s goal was just his second in 84 appearances for United in all competitions. They’ve both been scored at Old Trafford past goalkeeper Tom Heaton – the other coming when he was in goal for Burnley in January.
- Villa named an unchanged starting XI for the fourth time in the Premier League this season – as many as they did in their 49 games in the Championship in 2018-19 (including play-offs).
Manchester United are next in action when former manager Jose Mourinho takes his Tottenham side to Old Trafford on Wednesday (19:30 GMT). On the same night, Villa visit Chelsea (also 19:30).