Bruno Fernandes scoring a penalty has turn out to be a really acquainted sight for Manchester United. Being among the many Premier League frontrunners has not been seen in recent times for the fallen large. United went level on points with chief Liverpool with a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on Friday. The win was secured by Fernandes scoring his ninth spotkick since making his debut 11 months in the past.
While United continues to be behind Liverpool on purpose distinction, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has gained another and has the staff trying nicely-positioned to mount a problem for a primary title since 2013. Alex Ferguson, who produced United’s report-extending twentieth English title earlier than retiring eight years in the past, was amongst only a few hundred allowed into Old Trafford to witness this New Year’s Day sport in a metropolis in close to-lockdown.
A day after his 79th birthday, the Scot noticed Anthony Martial head United in entrance within the fortieth minute on the finish of a counterattack began by Paul Pogba. And it was Pogba who gained the penalty — from the restart after Bertrand Traoré’s equalizer — that allowed Fernandes to clinch the win within the 61st minute.
Such has been United’s decline within the post-Ferguson years that solely as soon as — in 2018 underneath Jose Mourinho — has United completed second after which it was 19 points behind Manchester City. And when Solskjaer opened 2020 with United 27 points behind eventual champion Liverpool, the supervisor’s days seemed numbered.
“It’s such a big difference when you look 12 months back,” Solskjaer mentioned. “It’s a good position to be in but we need to improve and get better.” Key to United’s transformation final season that secured a 3rd-place end was Fernandes arriving within the January switch window.
But it’s the staff’s costliest participant — Pogba — that Solskjaer will have to be making a constant affect if the trophy is to be collected. “His physical presence is important for us,” Solskjaer mentioned.
After gaining possession 5 minutes earlier than halftime inside his personal half, Pogba headed the ball to Marcus Rashford, who flicked it for Aaron Wan-Bissaka to take down the suitable flank. A cross was then despatched in for Martial to fulfill with a stooping header planted into the online for his third purpose in six video games.
It’s not straightforward breaching Villa’s protection. This was solely the second conceded in six video games. So a lot of Villa’s risk was coming on the left flank from Jack Grealish. At the beginning of the second half he beat Wan-Bissaka and despatched in a cross which led to Ollie Watkins’ header being turned over by goalkeeper David de Gea.
But De Gea was crushed by Traoré from shut vary after Douglas Luiz let Grealish’s cross go previous him. The transfer began with a shortly taken free kick by John McGinn inside Villa’s half that caught out United. But the lead didn’t final lengthy after Pogba tangled with Luiz’s shoulders and nearly appeared to journey himself over. But the penalty survived a VAR evaluation for Fernandes to transform for his eleventh league purpose of the season.
Fernandes did have an opportunity to increase the lead from open play with a shot pushed over that ensured a nervy conclusion to guard the lead. In stoppage time, De Gea stored out a strong shot from Matty Cash and defender Eric Bailly scrambled a clearance to forestall Keinan Davis leveling. No surprise Bailly was so triumphant, roaring on the remaining whistle. Fernandes went over to embrace him.
“It’s a fantastic block at the end,” Solskjaer mentioned. “I didn’t enjoy the last 10 minutes that much because I think we could have seen out the game out in a better way.”