A Philippe Coutinho-inspired Aston Villa fought back to a two-all draw with Man Utd at Villa Park.
Looking to avenge Monday’s cup loss, Steven Gerrard’s men pushed hard from the first whistle but lacked the guile to add to their guts until Coutinho make his debut.
A horrendous error from Villa keeper Emi Martinez gifted Man Utd the opener. A short free kick freed Bruno Fernandes to shoot from range; it trickled between the blushing keeper’s legs when it looked easier to save.
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Rangnick had drawn criticism for the lack of width his team have displayed this season but everything good for Man Utd spilled from their left hand side. Anthony Elanga, making only his third appearance this season, looked menacing with Alex Telles backing him up.
With the early goal restoring the confidence that has been lacking in recent weeks, Man Utd continued to press. For large swathes of the first half Rangnick’s team were first to every ball and had players in advanced positions when they invariably won it back.
Villa did look to restore parity and some control but found an inspired David De Gea in their way. A close-range header from Emi Buendia was smothered at the near post and a volley from new man Lucas Digne was blocked. He looked unbeatable.
Villa did pull a goal back as Jacob Ramsay was slotted through on goal by the craft of the newly-introduced Coutinho who was exemplary after coming on in the second half.
Coutinho then powered home to level. Roles reversed, Ramsay plucked the ball across the face of goal and Coutinho was there to gobble up his first chance of the game from inside the six yard box.
Villa Park erupted to see their new man make such an immediate impact and it was nothing less than Villa deserved as they pressed a rattled Man Utd for the winner.
The draw leaves Man Utd six points off the top four but steadies the ship for Villa who have been looking for results to match their performances.
With Digne and Coutinho impressive, and Gerrard’s never-say-die attitude permeating the side, Aston Villa’s mini revolution continues.
TALKING POINTS - MAN UTD PRESS ON WITHOUT RONALDO
A fit Christiano Ronaldo is close to undroppable. But Christiano Ronaldo with a dodgy hip may just have been a blessing for Rangnick’s pressing side. One of the only criticisms of the 36-year-old Portuguese is his reluctance to press and immobility in the defensive phase.
Without him on the pitch, Man Utd were quicker to the ball and quicker turning defence into attack. When the extra man in the middle did win the ball back for United, their wide players were always in advanced positions. Mason Greenwood was always ready to pounce and Anthony Elanga provided the outball his team had been wanting.
Perhaps most troubling for United, and Portugal, was the difference Ronaldo’s absence made to countryman Bruno Fernandes. Free to run forward and position himself across the attacking part of the pitch, Fernandes looked liberated.
Rangnick will have to be brave not to squeeze them both into the side if both are fit. But with two goals and a bristling, bruising performance free of Ronaldo’s shadow, Bruno Fernandes again showed himself as one of the true stars in this Man Utd side.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH - PHILIPPE COUTINHO
With less than half an hour on the pitch, it took something special to be the game’s most influential player. But that’s exactly what Coutinho is expected to bring to this Aston Villa side.
The Brazil playmaker was central from his first touch, knitting together a Villa performance that was full of drive but lacked craft.
His assist for Ramsey’s goal was typical of his close control and quick thinking. He skipped around Man Utd before prodding the ball through for a simple finish.
His goal was one of the simplest in his bulging repertoire but allowed the VIlla crowd to welcome a player that is set to be central to Steven Gerrard’s side.
Aston Villa: Martinez 5, Cash 6, Konsa 6, Mings 6, Digne 7, Sanson 6, Douglas Luiz 7, Ramsey 8, Buendia 8, Ings 6, Watkins 6. Subs: Hause 6, Chukwuemeka 6, Coutinho 8.
Man Utd: De Gea 8, Lindelof 6, Greenwood 6, Fred 7, Fernandes 8, Varane 6, Dalot 7, Cavani 5, Telles 6, Matic 6, Elanga 7. Subs: Lingard 5, Van de Beek 6, Sancho 5.
81’ ASTON VILLA 2 - MAN UTD 2: DREAM START FOR COUTINHO Jacob Ramsey turns provider as he squares the ball brilliantly for the onrushing Coutinho to gobble up his first chance of the game from inside the six yard box. Excellent play and a simple finish.
78’ ASTON VILLA 1 - MAN UTD 2: RAMSEY RAMS HOME Coutinho makes it, skipping through the heart of the United defence to tee up Ramsey from eight yards. His finish is assured for his first goal at Villa Park.
66’ ASTON VILLA 0 - MAN UTD 2: FERNANDES SMASHES HOME That accidental stamp has riled Fernandes. A piece of quick thinking from Fred wins the ball back and he slips in Fernandes. The finish is emphatic, smashed off the bar, into the turf, and into the roof of the net.
42’ DIGNE FIRES AT DE GEA What a welcome that would have been. Digne fires at De Gea on the volley with the goal beckoning. It was good movement from the left back and an even better save.
5’ ASTON VILLA 0 - MAN UTD 1: HORROR ERROR FROM THE KEEPER The daintiest roll from a free kick lets Bruno Fernandes shoot from distance. It should be simple but Martinez watches the ball trickle between his legs. That was horrendous.
This is only the second time Man Utd have only scored more than once under Ralf Rangnick, the other a 3-1 win over Burnley at the end of last year.
De Gea has had to make 78 saves this season. The most of any keeper in the league.
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