Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj stakes claim with winner at Aston Villa

Louis van Gaal has talked about how away
victories can be the cornerstone of Manchester
United’s success this season, and this was a
promising start, if not a convincing performance,
as Adnan Januzaj came in from the cold to score
the only goal of the game and deliver a gentle
reminder to his manager that there may be
something worth persevering with yet.
Making his first United start in more than six
months after seemingly being on his way out of Old
Trafford, Januzaj responded with his first goal
since April 2014 on a night when Van Gaal’s side
extended their extraordinary sequence of results at
Villa Park and dampened some of the optimism in
these parts after a summer of rebuilding.
United have now gone 20 matches without losing in
the league at Villa – increasing what was already
the longest unbeaten away run in any fixture in
top-flight history – and the brutal truth is that Tim
Sherwood’s new-look side never threatened to
deliver a result that would have put that statistic to
bed.
Sergio Romero could have taken the night off along
with David de Gea as Villa huffed and puffed with
little success. United also toiled for periods and it
was alarming to see Wayne Rooney looking so far
off the pace. Leading the line, the United captain
had to wait until injury-time to touch the ball in the
penalty area. By that point, however, Januzaj had
made his mark.
Sherwood had been typically bullish beforehand,
talking about how Villa would “fancy themselves”
against Van Gaal’s side, yet the history books
suggested otherwise. To put Villa’s record against
United into some sort of context, the last time they
beat United at home in the Premier League was
almost 20 years ago to the day and Adama Traoré ,
their new signing from Barcelona, who was
paraded to a warm ovation before kick-off, had
not been born.
This game was a slowburner, with neither side
playing with much cohesion during a scrappy
opening 45 minutes. Perhaps that was to be
expected given that there were a total of 10 new
signings on display. United made the better start
and had Morgan Schneiderlin, one of four new
faces in the visitors’ team, been more alert in the
16th minute Villa could easily have fallen behind.
Memphis Depay’s inswinging free-kick from the left
floated towards the back post and ran through to
the unmarked Schneiderlin, who seemed to be
taken by surprise that nobody had got a touch on
the ball and was unable to adjust quickly enough to
steer his header on target.
Brad Guzan raced quickly off his line moments
later to win a duel with Depay after the ball
rebounded off Michael Carrick and invited the
Dutchman to break into the inside left channel, but
there was no reprieve for Villa just before the half-
hour mark, when United took the lead.
It was a goal that said much about the influence
and talent of Juan Mata, who started on the right to
accommodate Januzaj in the No10 role, but drifted
out to the left to deliver the perfectly weighted pass
that carved open the Villa defence and picked out
Januzaj’s run. Micah Richards saw the danger and
raced across but he failed to apply the brakes and
Januzaj, with some dexterous footwork, checked
inside, sitting the Villa captain on his backside in
the process, before stroking a right-footed shot that
deflected off Ciaran Clark and went in off the far
upright.
Januzaj’s inclusion in the starting XI, in place of
Ashley Young, was something of a surprise and
meant that Depay took up a more familiar role on
the left. Depay was involved in the buildup to the
goal, which was the best passage of play in a
disappointing first-half during which Rooney
struggled to make any impression on the game.
Villa looked every inch a team in transition and by
the time half-time came the atmosphere felt rather
flat. Sherwood’s team had created precious little
and the only real moment of concern for United
was when Matteo Darmian, the Italian right-back,
tangled with Richards following a Villa corner. The
Italian had his hands all over Richards and on
another night Mike Dean, the referee, could easily
have pointed to the spot.
There was more urgency about Villa at the start of
the second half as they started to play with more
belief. Mata’s careless pass – something of a
collector’s item – presented Jordan Ayew with a
chance to run with the ball before shooting wildly
over, and in the 54th minute Gabriel Agbonlahor’s
header, from Ashley Westwood’s corner, forced
Romero to make his first save of the evening.
Villa needed more physical presence up front and
Sherwood responded by replacing Sinclair with
Rudy Gestede. Van Gaal also made two changes on
the hour mark, supplanting Carrick with Bastian
Schweinsteiger and bringing on Ander Herrera for
Januzaj, to shift the momentum of the game back
into United’s favour. Desperation was creeping into
Villa’s play as Ayew picked up a booking for
diving.
At the other end Mata produced another of those
majestic left-footed passes to release Depay behind
the Villa defence. With only Guzan to beat, Depay
opened up his body to create the angle for the shot
but curled his right-footed effort inches wide of the
far post.

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