It was an awkward fixture and United were the first to really feel the wrath of Emery’s Villa when they visited Birmingham back in November. The saving grace is that it was at Old Trafford where United have not managed to lose at since the opening day against Brighton. The respect that Ten Hag had for his opponents came in that he brought in an extra midfielder and an orthodox left back to solidify the team against the rampant Brummies. As has been the trend for most of the games post international break, United started well and created a fair bit. A parried Rashford shot found its way to Bruno, who slotted in just before half time to give United a deserved lead. There wasn’t much in it for the rest of the game but at least the home team were able to hold on to give us an invaluable three points.

One Half Team

Given the results and performances at Old Trafford against Sevilla, which ended up costing us our place in the Europa League, and the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, scrutiny on United’s ability to close out games, specifically leads, has increased. What’s more is that in both of those games, the scoreline should have been more pronounced and it was poor decision making in the final third that stopped this from happening.

You saw more of the same today as for large passages of the first half, United exerted control over Villa with consummate ease and really should have been further ahead than just the solitary goal going into the second half. The progression from the back was helped by Shaw and Dalot helping in the first phase, along with Casemiro returning to the type of form that helped us establish our places within the top four and his absence combined with the lack of form is something that we have been unable to cope with when trying to assert our control and much of the fact that we cannot put teams away comes from not just our actions in both boxes but everything in between, particularly in the middle. United closed out the first half with 64% possession and 8 shots in total.

Even if the result was better than those two aforementioned, the decline in performance still occurred. The game evened out and it can be seen in the amount of xG registered by both teams in each half particularly. 75% of what the Villains were able to muster up came in the second half, even if the majority were blocked shots. United have been particularly excellent in that regard of getting their body between the ball and their goalkeeper this season, with today confirming this fact but it is something that can be and has been conducive to the fact we are letting too many final third entries occur. It is probably something that is too late in the season to thoroughly addresses we want but the main objective has to be elongating our dominance from one half to both, something that just falls into the general expectancy of the consistency increasing as Ten Hag spends more time training the team.

A Free Hit?

Something the Dutchman is likely to get, seeing as not only did we beat an Aston Villa team who could have been not ideally close to us if they managed to do the double over us this season. Going into this run of games with Spurs, Villa and Brighton, the expectation was that two wins would go a long way to confirming our space in the Champions League next season but the minimum requirement was at least 4 points and ideally, not having to go to Brighton requiring to pick up a win as the hardest fixture in that three game run.

In a strange way, with the way results have transpired, it isn’t exactly a free hit but some bonus points to pick up given that it is our game in hand with teams around us, our away form and the general competency of Brighton this season. These things and the added fire that the Seagulls will have from their FA Cup loss on penalties will make even the most optimistic Red Devil concerned about what will be happening when United travel back up to Manchester on Thursday night. With the games to come afterwards, in which the team should be looking to get as close to maximum points as possible, it shouldn’t be as season defining game as it could have been had things not played out worse than it did today