Manchester United’s trip to Villa Park seemed to be going swimmingly after a Bruno Fernandes brace left them two goals to the good going into the last 15 minutes of the game.
However, similarly to the FA Cup match between the sides just five days prior, Aston Villa mounted pressure on the Reds — this time, United capitulated.
Goals from Jacob Ramsay and ex-Liverpool player Philippe Coutinho in the late stages of the game salvaged a point for Steven Gerrard’s men, who put Ralf Rangnick’s team to the sword in the second half.
There were plenty of talking points from the disappointing trip to Birmingham — here are three of the main ones.
Can United play well for longer than 30 minutes?
It was another early goal for the men in red, with Bruno’s long-range effort beating Emi Martinez when the goalkeeper should’ve done much better.
United built on their lead and controlled the opening stages, and it was looking like the best period of play since Rangnick’s opening 30 minutes against Crystal Palace.
However, the warning signs began to creep in towards the end of the first half, with new signing Lucas Digne testing David de Gea from the left minutes before the interval.
In the second half, the hosts yielded the lion’s share of possession, with 65%, and they started to take control of the game.
Despite a second goal midway through the half, United rarely grasped back the control that they had in the early stages of the game, and it was no surprise when Villa took their chance to spoil the party.
Impressive periods have been few and far between since the German manager took charge at Old Trafford, and when United do look impressive, it seems that it is only a matter of time in the game that they will concede control to the opposition.
It doesn’t help that you have no defensive midfielder on the bench to replace the ageing Nemanja Matic, who Ramsey strolled past to set up Villa’s late equaliser.
Nonetheless, United need to figure out how to sustain pressure for longer periods of games, because the talent pool in the league means that anyone can be punished if they drop their levels like United did on Saturday.
There is a multitude of reasons that they cannot do this — which makes Rangnick’s job all the more difficult — but larger stepping stones need to start being shown, otherwise, United will be left far behind the race for the top four.
Anthony Elanga was a bright spark
Many eyebrows were raised when United’s teamsheet was released and Anthony Elanga’s name was in the starting line-up.
The young talent has impressed Rangnick and was bright in his short cameo against the Villians in the FA Cup last Monday.
His performance was a complete breath of fresh air though. The Swede was comfortable in possession, impressive defensive and caused Matty Cash and co a bundle of problems on the flank.
The lively winger attempted five take-ons and had four shots on the Villa goal, and looked largely comfortable in the Premier League setting — which made it seem even stranger that he was the player to make way for Rangnick’s first substitution.
It was no surprise to see Jadon Sancho take to the field, but Elanga was United’s brightest spark at Villa Park.
His constant movement off the ball was something that United have severely lacked of late; the frontline was relatively static after the 19-year-old made his way onto the bench.
It looked like it could’ve been due to a knock, which would be understandable, but it was no surprise that United looked less offensively dangerous after the change.
Despite that, his showing made it certain that it will not be his last this season, and any chance of a loan move should realistically be refuted because Elanga can offer the Reds something this season.
Anthony Martial: What on earth is going on?
It’s only appropriate that, even when there was so much to talk about on the pitch, the major talking point after the match was one that had nothing to do with the players on the pitch.
Anthony Martial was left out of the squad for the trip down south, which was unusual due to the Reds having just eight players on the bench, instead of nine, and no recognised striker among them.
Rangnick explained after the match, however, that the French striker ‘didn’t want to be in the squad to face Aston Villa. It has been widely reported that Martial is looking to leave Old Trafford this window due to a lack of game-time.
Yet, this explanation from the German manager was disputed by Martial on his Instagram later that night.
“I will never refuse to play a match for Man United.” The forward wrote. “I’ve been here 7 years and I never disrespected and will never disrespect the club and the fans.”
It leaves many confused with the situation at hand, and it will almost certainly be the talking point of Rangnick’s next press conference, even though the on-field matters should be taking precedence.
‘Keeping Up With Manchester United’ would certainly give the Kardashians a run for their money; it’s a shame they can’t challenge their Premier League rivals in a similar fashion.