Manchester United stay perfect, top Aston Villa with Januzaj's winner
Manchester United kept their 20-year unbeaten streak at Villa Park alive with Adnan Januzaj scoring an early goal to win out 1-0 on Friday night.
Villa offered precious little on the night despite what was another tepid performance from United, signaling just how far off the pace Villa truly are in the Premier League. The American-owned Villa are early favorites to be relegated this season.
The game's build-up was frankly far more remarkable than anything we saw on the field tonight. This was a rare Friday night match, one that had to be moved forward due to a march by the far-right England Defense League in Birmingham on Saturday. Local police requested the change on the grounds that they were unable to guarantee crowd safety. In addition, dissent in the ranks was exposed on Thursday when United manager Louis van Gaal revealed Thursday that goalkeeper David De Gea was actively refusing to play for the club, hoping to force a long-rumored move to Real Madrid through.
''I think we have played better than last week, and it was an away match,'' United manager Louis van Gaal told broadcaster SkySports. ''I'm very happy.. ... we don't give many chances away and every game we have more chances than the opponent and that's the game.''
With the crowd rolling in late due to an accident on the ring road around the ground, the atmosphere was somewhat muted, and the game played down to that. United continued to look the same choppy side we saw in their opening game, a 1-0 win over Tottenham thanks to an own goal. Passes were sprayed to and fro, but rarely to where they were intended. Villa tried to make something of a game of it, but their attacks, exclusively concentrated down the near flank, were blunted and keeper Sergio Romero was rarely bothered.
One player who has shone in his brief time at United is Memphis Depay, and tonight he was easily the most positive player. He nearly found Morgan Schneiderlin for an early goal when he coasted in a decent free kick on the 15th minute, but Schneiderlin's attempt to sneak round the back was cut out, and the cross went out.
Depay also displayed a good understanding with Juan Mata and Schneiderlin, and was the instigator of the move that led to Januzaj's goal. Stroking the ball about near side at the top of the box, Depay set up Mata with time and space to fire a ball in over Januzaj's left shoulder. Januzaj pivoted, then slapped a shot across the face of Guzan's net, off the far post, and in. It is true, he was helped by a wicked deflection off Ciaran Clark, but it was a just reward for good buildup, and Januzaj's technique was superb on the goal.
''He scored a wonderful goal, but all the other aspects of football, you have to show it also,'' Van Gaal said, highlighting that the Belgium international was also guilty of giving the ball away at times.
Villa were simply unable to get anything going, and it wasn't until the 55th minute that they actually made Romero do any work at all. Gabby Agbonlahor was teed up by a Jordan Ayew corner, and he put his header on frame, but it was too easy for the keeper.
With the game settling into what could only charitably called a midfield slog, both teams huffed and puffed but made precious few attempts on net. Wayne Rooney was conspicuously absent on the night, unable to really make any impact whatsoever.
Mata and Depay nearly combined to put the game to bed in the 72nd minute when Villa coughed the ball up at midfield and set up Depay with only Brad Guzan to beat. He shot wide, in a play that summed up the quality of the entire match.
United now sit atop the Premier League table tonight, at least ahead of the weekend's games. Villa, seventh after a fortunate win over promoted Bournemouth opening day, have already begun their slide toward the cellar.