Bruno Fernandes has become a very familiar sight for Manchester United, scoring on a penalty. Being among the pioneers of the Premier League has not been seen in recent years for the fallen giant. United reached level on points with leader Liverpool on Friday with a 2–1 win over Aston Villa. The win was achieved by Fernandes in ninth place since his debut 11 months ago.
Although United are still behind Liverpool on goal difference, Ole Gunnar Solskar secured another win and the team are well placed to challenge for a maiden title since 2013. Alex Ferguson, who won the joint title’s 20th record before retiring. Eight years ago, Old Trafford had just a few hundred people to witness this New Year’s Day game in a city of near-lockdown.
The day after his 79th birthday, Scott saw Anthony Marshall head United at the end of a counterattack launched by Paul Pogba in the 40th minute. And it was Pogba who won Penalba – from Bertrand Trare’s restart after a tie – that allowed Fernandes to win in the 61st minute.
Only once in 2018 under Jose Mourinho – has Ferguson’s downfall in subsequent years – United finished second and then 19 points behind Manchester City. And when Solaskar opened 2020 with a combined 27 points behind eventual champions Liverpool, the manager’s days looked numb.
“It’s such a big difference when you show up 12 months ago,” Soulskjer said. “It’s a good situation but we need to improve and get better at it.” A change from the previous season of the United season moved Fernandes to the January transfer window, finishing in third place.
But it is the team’s most expensive player – Pogba – that Solskar will need to make a consistent impact in order to take the trophy. “His physical presence is important to us,” Solskjer said.
After taking possession inside his own half five minutes before halftime, Pogba led the ball to Marcus Rashford, who landed it under right flank for Aaron Van-Bisaka. A cross was then sent to Marshall to meet with a header planted in net for his third goal in six games.
It is not easy to protect the villa. It was only the second win in six matches. Many of Villa’s threats were coming from Jack Grealish on the left flank. At the start of the second half he defeated Van-Bisaka and sent in a cross, which led to the header of Ollie Watkins being overturned by goalkeeper David De Gay.
But De Gay was defeated by Trier from close range after Douglas Luiz was overcome by Grasil. The move began with a quick free kick inside the half of Villa by John McGinn that knocked United out. But Pogba did not keep the lead long after getting tangled with Luiz’s shoulders and almost appeared to be traveling on his own. But Fernandes survived a VAR review to convert his 11th league goal of the season to a penalty.
Fernandes had a chance to extend the lead from open play, with the emphasis on the shot to ensure a nervous conclusion to save the lead. At stoppage time, De Gay put out a powerful shot from Mattie Cash and defender Eric Bailey intercepted clearance to stop Keenan Davis leveling. No wonder Bailey was so victorious, roaring at the final whistle. Fernandes moved to hug him.
“It’s a great block at the end,” Sölskjer said. “I didn’t enjoy the last 10 minutes because I think we could have seen the game better.”
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