Januzaj’s sublime solo strike hands Red Devils narrow Villa victory
Manchester United continued their perfect start to the Premier League campaign with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Aston Villa in the West Midlands, as Adnan Januzaj’s first-half strike earned all three points.
Louis van Gaal cast Januzaj into his starting line-up for the first time since last February and the youngster didn’t disappoint, as his sublime solo effort after 29 minutes ultimately proved decisive at Villa Park.
Red Devils boss Van Gaal stated that Januzaj had been looking sharp in the preparation for the Villa Park trip and opted to deploy the young Belgian in his favourite position, the number 10 role. Though, the Old Trafford prospect was heavily tracked early in the clash, finding Villa midfielders on his case at every opportunity.
As the game grew on, United’s domination of possession was swiftly met by quick counter attacks from the hosts, with the Villains searching for their widemen Scott Sinclair and Jordan Ayew each time they regained the ball.
With almost 10 minutes gone, the visitors’ defence was split open from deep, but left back Luke Shaw showed great awareness and balance to thwart Jordan Veretout from cutting inside, impressively halting any danger.
Netherlands international Memphis Depay was the target of many United attacks, but both Michael Carrick and Juan Mata asked too much of the rapid wideman with overhit passes from distance. He soon got his chance to cause a threat, though.
After Villa skipper Micah Richards clattered into Januzaj on the left flank, Memphis swung in a superb delivery which beat every Villa defender and found its way into the path of Morgan Schneiderlin, but the Frenchman couldn’t control his header.
Memphis soon showed his raw pace to get through on goal with Brad Guzan, but the Villans stopper somehow managed to get there first and clear the danger, following a loose ball from midfield.
United continued to dominate possession in the first period, but Sherwood’s defiant side were thorough and maintained a solid shape, until a moment of brilliance from Januzaj.
The Belgium international proved to be a great starting choice from Van Gaal, as he picked up a through ball from Mata in the Villa penalty area, majestically swivelling onto his supposed weaker right foot, before slotting into the bottom corner off the post to give United the lead.
Holding a narrow one-goal cushion, Van Gaal’s travelling side sat back until half-time, with Villa unable to penetrate the defensive pairing of Chris Smalling and Daley Blind, with Sergio Romero enjoying a relatively quiet opening 45 minutes.
In a bright start to the second half, Ayew was gifted the chance to run at Smalling after a stray Mata back-pass, but the Ghana international forward sent his curling effort sailing well over Romero’s net.
Jordan Amavi continued to show his adventurous side from left back, bursting forward and unleashing a wicked left footed cross before the hour mark, but none of his teammates could connect.
Despite United holding the advantage, their skipper and leading frontman Wayne Rooney had so far looked deserted, and had to drop deep to help halt an onslaught from Villa, who were rapturously spurred on by their home support.
Although their efforts were in vain as the attack broke down, with Tim Sherwood thrusting opening day goal scorer Rudy Gestede into the action, and Van Gaal introducing midfield duo Ander Herrera and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
German World Cup-winning midfielder Schweinsteiger instantly begun to make United tick from the centre, keeping play flowing and attempting many threatening lofted passes forward.
Having enjoyed a successful pre-season since switching from PSV this summer, Memphis endured a frustrating evening in the West Midlands, as the usually clinical Dutchman sent his one-on-one effort narrowly wide, after a perfect through ball from Mata.
United used possession wisely in the closing stages, as Villa’s high-pressing defensive approach began to fade as fatigue kicked in.
There was enough time for Van Gaal to launch Ashley Young into the action against his former employers, replacing a visibly frustrated Memphis on the left wing, and the Englishman used his fresh legs to torment a tiring Villa rear guard.
The Red Devils closed out their second domestic clash of the season to earn a successive triumph after toppling Spurs on the opening day, so far making the perfect start to what Van Gaal hopes will be a successful Premier League campaign.