Manchester United v Aston Villa – as it happened
Preamble Hello. No matter how bad you think your life might be – and with good reason, I’m inclined to opine, given that you are spending your Sunday afternoon reading this – it can’t, on this particular day, be as bad as the life of Sir Alex Ferguson’s undercrackers. Be they cheap cotton chafers from Ciro Citterio or six-figure silk strokers from Selfridges, those boys could take one hell of a beating over the next few hours. Ferguson coined the phrase ‘squeaky-bum time’ in 2003, but right now he might just wish he hadn’t.
A campaign that was, for United, so blissful and serene as to be soundtracked by an Aeroplane remix is now playing out to a mash-up of the Jaws theme and the music from Psycho, with a looping sample of that ‘kiri kiri kiri’ bit from Audition playing over the top.
The twist in this title race has been simply remarkable. At 1.12pm on March 14, United were effectively 10 points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand. Then Nemanja Vidic dithered for a split second, Fernando Torres robbed him to equalise, and now, less than a month later, the respective fortunes of both sides have changed to such an extent that, even though United are still a two-game swing ahead, it is they rather than Liverpool who are under an almost asphyxiating pressure.
Liverpool’s momentum and sense of destiny are such that they will seriously fancy their chances of becoming the latest side to prove that, actually, the league championship can sometimes be a sprint, not a marathon (see also, in modern times, 1995-96, 1997-98, 2001-02 and 2002-03). If United don’t win today, that advantage becomes a one-game swing, and then things really will get interesting. They have six first-choice players missing today – Ferdinand, Berbatov, Rooney, Vidic, Hargreaves or Scholes and Brown or Rafael – and many defeatist fans have already accepted the unthinkable: Liverpool’s 19th title and their first since before we had heard of Laura Palmer, Vanilla Ice, Salvatore Schillaci, Beavis, Wayne Campbell and Andrea Dossena. Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Shoes Sale Me? I think everyone needs to stop whinging and grow a set.*
*Your correspondent reserves the right to revise this opinion ever so slightly as of 5.51pm tonight.
Goal of the season 2008-09? Case closed Columbo.
You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the various previews, but there are two teams playing today. And Villa’s need is just as great as United’s. They are now six points behind Arsenal with just this game in hand; even a draw – in isolation an outstanding result – is not enough for them to realistically maintain any hope of finishing fourth.
They have won none and lost six of their last eight games, but the manner of their 5-0 defeat at Liverpool two weeks ago might actually help them: it was the sort of relentless slap about the chops they needed to wake them up after a series of narrow and therefore subconsciously excusable defeats. The timing of the international break was perfect: if United wanted time to recover mentally, a Villa squad whose rotation has been minimal wanted time to recover physically.
I think we’ll see a zesty, purposeful shift from them today, and especially from Brad Friedel. Perversely, a large proportion of Manchester United fans – approximately 100 per cent – were glad to see Friedel get sent off at Anfield, safe in the knowledge that he would miss the United game because there would be no chance of the FA making it up as they go along and rescinding his red card.
As bogey players go, Friedel against Manchester United is No1, followed by a lot of daylight. In two games in particular – at Ewood Park in 2004-05 and 2007-08 – he produced absurdly good performances. It is fair to say that, without both their main strikers and with Carlos Tevez still gulping air like it’s going out of fashion after playing at high altitude in Bolivia, he is not the man United wanted to meet today.
One United fan has even suggested the verb ‘to Friedel’: i.e. to thwart an opponent with a series of increasingly mind-boggling saves. Well, they did put ‘squeaky-bum time’ in Collins, so why not.
A question that is in no way related to the previous entries If a person wanted to leave the country indefinitely on, say, May 24, where might be a nice, cheap place to go? Somewhere with a 24/7 liquor licence and tearproof bedding might be handy.
A couple of questions for the ones of Villa fans reading this Why has Gabriel Agbonlahor been booed? To a neutral this seems absurd. And is Martin O’Neill’s switch to 4-4-2 in any way responsible for Villa’s demise?
Oh and if you can explain why he paid all that money for Nicky Shorey, more power to ya.
Team news There is no Rio Ferdinand for United, because Authentic Prada Handbags Uk of his back problem, so Gary Neville will be alongside Jonny Evans play at centre-back. Gary Nevile will be at centre-back. Nani starts a league game for only the fifth time this season. United have all sorts of tactical options with that team, but I’ve listed it below as the Sky Sports News goons have printed it, even though their team looks more than a little unbalanced. I think it would be much better with O’Shea at centre-back, Ronaldo and Nani wide and Giggs in the pocket behind Tevez, but I am not Sam Matterface so what do I know.
Villa make two changes from the side that waved the white flag at Anfield. Gabriel Agbonlahor replaces the injured Emile Heskey, while Nicky Shorey – starting a league game for the first time since November 9 – replaces Nigel Reo-Coker. That’s good news for Luke Young, who will switch from left- to right-back.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1) Van der Sar; O’Shea, Neville, Evans, Evra; Carrick, Giggs; Fletcher, Tevez, Nani; Ronaldo.Subs: Foster, Park, Welbeck, Gibson, Martin, Macheda, Eckersley.
Aston Villa (4-4-2) Friedel; L Young, Cuellar, Davies, Shorey; Milner, Petrov, Barry, A Young; Carew, Agbonlahor.Subs: Guzan, Delfouneso, Knight, Salifou, Reo-Coker, Gardner, Albrighton.
3.25pm “Danny Kelly has just completed an hour long interview with Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture, Meeja and Sport,” says Gary Naylor. “Burnham was in the stand at Goodison and is summarising the Everton v Wigan game for the station. He spoke a helluva lot of sense and clearly loves sport in general as well as Everton. Good to hear a politician toeing the party line, but sounding exactly like a human being.” What he said.
3.35pm “That Wolsburg goal is ridiculous,” says Thomas Hopkins. “Whilst watching it, I was formulating a fatuous comment about it being a photoshopped version of Ricky Villa but the backheel at the end makes it far, far better.” It’s now a photoshopped version of me at King George’s in 1994-95.
3.44pm “Re: your holiday query, our bedding is ‘bear-proof’,” says Andrew Smith. “I defy any Guardian journo to tear it. However, there would a small extra charge should you succeed.” Oh I wasn’t talking about me. I was asking on behalf of, y’know, a friend.
Prediction Manchester United 0-0 Brad Friedel.
3.50pm “I live in Warrington so I’m surrounded by pumped-up Scousers and angst-ridden Mancs,” says Greg Stringer. “Anyway, I can’t see enough quality in Utd’s ranks to win the game. The back four lacks height, which Carew will enjoy. Ronaldo owes us a blinder, given yesterday’s Guardian revelations.” Ronaldo and Nani could right a helluva lot of wrongs with one sweep of a right foot today. The back four does lack height, and pace as well, but apart from that…
3.53pm “Congrats to Luton Town!!” says Gary Naylor of their Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory, before adding, possibly with the biggest grimace you’ve ever seen: “Even Mick Harford.”
3.59pm Right, let’s me and you get this done.
1 min Aston Villa, in their turquoisey away kit, kick off from right to left. United’s formation is actually quite logical: a 4-2-3-1 with Giggs behind Tevez and Nani and Ronaldo wide. Gary Neville is playing centre-back.
2 min “The best performance I’ve ever seen Friedel give against United was in the 4-1 in March 2007 at Old Trafford, which would have been 24-1 but for him,” says Mike Gibbons. “A similar bout of heroics in a crushing defeat would suit me just fine today.”
3 Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Dresses Uk min A very dangerous, inswinging cross from Ashley Young on the left just clears Agbonlahor and is punched away by a stretching Van der Sar. Villa have started well.
4 min Villa hit the post! Shorey scorches past Ronaldo and then the lumbering O’Shea and drives a really dangerous cross to the near post that Evans, just getting in front of Carew, clears for a corner. From that corner, on the left, Carew heads goalwards and Fletcher knocks it onto his own post. He actually did brilliantly because the header came awkwardly to him at thigh-height, and instead of panicking he sort of wedged the ball between his thigh and the post, and eventually it was cleared.
6 min United are a bag of nerves and it’s all Villa. Agbonlahor skins Gary Neville on the left with utter ease and blasts a really dangerous ball across the face of the six-yard box. There was nobody there to tap it into the open net.
7 min Alexander Netherton sends a two-word email written in SHOUTY CAPS. The second word is ‘everything’.
9 min Tevez, enjoying the novelty of oxygen, stabs a nice pass to Giggs on the left of the box, but his cross hits Luke Young.
10 min “Gabby got booed for wearing lime-green boots,” says Niall Harden. “Quite rightly, I feel. Happily he’s abandoned them today. Right, can you plug my band Heliopause’s gig tonight? We’re playing at 7pm at 1 Park Place, Belfast. It’s free and there’s free pizza. Hurrah!” Happy now?
11 min United can’t put two passes together. Honestly, they are awful. And Villa are a real threat in two particular parts of play: the long diagonal ball to Carew, which Neville simply can’t win, and the counter-attacking pass to the wide area that allows either Agbonlahor or Young to turn and run at either Neville or O’Shea.
GOAL! Manchester United 1-0 Aston Villa (Ronaldo 14) Friedel has no choice but to pick up a ludicrously ill-conceived backpass from Milner, who was inside his own box and only a few yards from Friedel. So United have an indirect free-kick 10 yards out, left of centre. Giggs touches it to his right… and Ronaldo scores! That is an outstanding goal because, instead of just lumping it as hard as possible, as players usually do in these situations, he sidefooted it high with curl and power into the far corner, over the head of the jumping Shorey on the line. Friedel was trapped behind his own wall, like a runner who gets baulked, and Ronaldo took advantage of that with a superb finish.
15 min Giggs so nearly gets through, but Cuellar comes across to concede a corner just as he is about to shoot at goal from 15 yards.
18 min Fletcher is penalised for pulling Petrov down this far outside the penalty area on the right. Ashley Young is lining it up and forces a decent, if flashy save from Van der Sar. It was whipped over the wall from right to left, and Van der Sar leapt to his right to punch it away for a corner.
20 min With the possible exception of 44 pints of alcohol, nothing changes a mood quite like a goal: United are confident and relaxed in possession now and the crowd have brought out the Alan Shearer songs.
23 min Friedel comes out of his box to clear a Giggs through ball but can only scuff his clearance to Nani 50 yards out. Surprisingly he doesn’t shoot – he has the quality to score from there – but instead tries to find Tevez, and the move breaks down. Incidentally, it is Everton 4-0 Wigan at Goodison Park.
25 min Agbonlahor skins Neville again on the left – that’s embarrassingly easy – and only some good anticipation from Van der Sar, diving in front of Carew at the near post to claim the resulting cross – gets United out of the ill-smelling stuff.
26 min “If Liverpool do not win the league, I will solely blame Milner,” says Hugh Morris. “I think that’s fair.” It was a spectacularly dumb piece of play, because not only did he pass it back when there was no need – Friedel would have claimed it anyway – but he also passed it to Friedel’s left, which meant it would have gone in his own goal rather than going for a corner had Friedel missed or left it. Friedel had no chance at all but to pick it up.
27 min United may be using the ball better but they are still extremely nervous at the back, and Petrov – put in on the right-hand side of the area by Carew – is wrongly flagged offside.
GOAL! Manchester United 1-1 Aston Villa (Carew 30) This is fully deserved, and it’s a brilliant goal too. Barry did outstandingly well to control a long ball to the right wing with his chest; he then turned inside Evans and Evra before clipping a beautiful left-footed cross to the far post for Carew, who had pulled off Neville, to flick a header into the corner.
31 min It’s a cliche, but this is a day for really big, mentally tough characters to deliver. Ronaldo has scored a brilliant goal; Gary Neville, for all his obvious limitations, Authentic Prada Milano Handbags is palpably, painfully up for it; I have only just noticed that Michael Carrick is on the pitch.
33 min Villa are by far the better, more penetrative team, mainly because United have four pieces of toast for a back four. Carew, who is playing with a really languid certainty, skins Neville and O’Shea in the inside-left channel but his clipped prada ball to the far post finds only Evra.
34 min Ronaldo, eight yards out, leaps majestically to meet Nani’s inswinging free-kick from the left, but he doesn’t get enough flick on the header and it goes straight at Friedel. That Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Book Bags was a decent chance.
35 min Sir Alex Ferguson has switched Neville to right-back and O’Shea to centre-back; not since the deckchairs were shuffled on the Titanic has there been such a pointless gesture. It just means Young will be the one to skin Neville now. At least O’Shea’s height will help against Carew.
38 min “Is Tevez a bit like Robinho but with a better attitude?” asks Gary Naylor. “Both have huge reputations and are capable of outstanding play, but both often strike me as under-achieving in terms of substantive contribution. Perhaps neither are that good after Authentic Prada Americas Cup Sneakers all?” I think most people accept that Tevez, while such an admirable character, isn’t actually that good. Certainly not worth £30m, anyway. If you had Robinho’s talent and Tevez’s character, you’d be quite a player. If you had Tevez’s talent and Robinho’s character, you’d be Bobby Zamora.
40 min United’s play has been extremely narrow today, which is odd with Nani and Ronaldo on the pitch, but both keep coming inside. Nani is eventually reduced to a hopeful hit from 35 yards. It almost enters another zip code.
42 min Villa continue Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada E Shop to find themselves in really dangerous areas in the final third, but for all that they haven’t created too many clear chances. United are so vulnerable at the back that, if Villa really concentrate here, it is no exaggeration to say that they could win 47-1. This is the worst United defensive performance I have seen since they lost 4-1 to QPR in 1991-92.
43 min “As soon as I saw that United’s guardian devil Mike FFFing Riley was on for this game I knew that United would get a dodgy goal at some point,” says Gene Salorio. “My main worry now is whether he’s satisfied that Ronaldo’s was it or if he’ll decide he has to go the extra mile and hand another to United.” All due respect and that, but: you complete tool. What exactly was Authentic Prada Handbags Uk dodgy about that goal then? Not even Alan Green would dispute it.
44 min Milner spanks one from 20 yards and it’s deflected a few yards wide. It’s still all Villa. United’s passing has gone to seed since Villa equalised.
45+1 min Giggs’s outswinging corner from the left finds Evans, unmarked 12 yards out ahead of the near post, but he gets too much flick on his header and it drifts beyond the far post. It wasn’t a serious goalscoring chance really.
Half time: Manchester United 1-1 Aston Villa Villa haven’t exactly torn United a new one, but they’ve certainly done the exploratory groundwork. They went undeservedly behind to a superb goal from Cristiano Ronaldo, but scored an equally good goal from John Carew to equalise. And with United having to play a tub of lard and a Stannah stairlift in their injury-hit back four, this game is very much Villa’s for the taking. Squeaky-bum time? That doesn’t begin to do this justice. See you in 15 minutes.
Dave Bell calls the kettle black, and the game even “I think your levels of pessimism have reached a new low, Rob…. both defences look a little suspect without their mainstays and this game could go either way. Villa look more dangerous going forward in the first half, but they do not have a Ronaldo amongst their ranks. Definitely more goals to look forward to though.”
I’m working away on an essay that’s already a week late, following the MBM and listening to Saint Etienne,” says David Jarman. “Just how good is their stuff? Lovely.” It is, but they said Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and that song may need rewriting on May 24.
46 min United kick off from right to left. No changes on either side. Sir Alex Ferguson waves his hands and asks the crowd to make more – some – noise.
47 min “I’d give it up to Chelsea right now,” says Alex Netherton.
48 min Ronaldo has started the second half on the left, with Nani on the right. So far nothing has happened at either end.
52 min Fletcher shanks a bouncing ball wide from the edge of the box. He was under a lot of pressure from Shorey, challenging from the side.
54 min It’s been a very bitty second half. United’s attacking play remains desperately indecisive and lacking in confidence.
55 min Young runs inbetween Neville and O’Shea onto Shorey’s long pass. He would have been through on goal but was flagged offside. That was really close, and on balance I think he was onside. Neville is utterly useless. It’s sad to watch a once top-class, proud player struggle like this. And I’m sure all Liverpool fans would agree.
GOAL! Manchester United 1-2 Aston Villa (Agbonlahor 58) A drama just became a crisis. This has been coming. Ronaldo loses the ball tamely in the Villa half, doesn’t bother to chase back, and it results in a goal. The ball is shifted down the left and eventually ends up with Carew, who teases Neville on the corner side of the box and clips an excellent, curving ball into the six-yard area for Agbonlahor, who had run off the back of the negligent Evra, Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Sale Uk to head past Van der Sar. He took a whack from Van der Sar in the process and is getting treatment, but he looks okay. Ronaldo’s contribution was risible there: shades of Veron against Chelsea in the 3-0 defeat in 2001.
60 min Gene Salorio (43 min) sends another email, libels someone in the process, so I’d better not print it.
61 min: THE BIGGEST GAMBLE EVER The 17-year-old Italian Federico Macheda MAKES HIS EFFING DEBUT for Manchester United, replacing the miserably ineffective Nani. Macheda is a centre-forward, and scored a hat-trick for the reserves in the week.
63 min “Watching Gary Neville on this pitch,” says Patrick Viner, “is like watching a former Grand National winner on its final ride to the knackers yard to get shot.” I’d take him off now, put Fletcher to right-back, Giggs into the centre of midfield and Park wide.
65 min United can’t get any momentum, and the main reason for that is that they cannot put two passes together. Carrick, Giggs, Tevez, Ronaldo (the goal excepted) and Nani have been desperately poor today. Fletcher has been merely quite poor.
66 min It’s 1997-98 all over again. This is all.
67 min Macheda has a big shout for a penalty and Mike Riley – yes, at Old Trafford – said no. That was fair enough. It was a fair, zesty challenge from both Macheda and Davies to meet a vicious inswinging cross from the right. Neither man got a head on the ball, but it wasn’t a penalty.
69 min “I don’t see where a United goal is coming from,” coos Andy Gray, stopping just short of launching into You”ll Never Walk Alone.
70 min Evans heads Giggs’s outswinging corner over the bar. He was only seven yards out but had four men around him; it was a half-chance at best.
71 min “On the plus side, Rob,” begins Jonathan Wilson, “your next league game is at Sunderland, and you could be facing the eighth relegation of your lifetime (and, in some senses, the worst, given we’ve managed to shell out £50m on this one).” You don’t understand. None of you understand.
72 min Macheda does superbly on the left, duping Cuellar and then kissing an excellent cross to the far post, but there is nobody there to finish it off.
73 min United have more momentum than at any other stage this afternoon. This, admittedly, is not saying much.
74 min Macheda has shown an impressive willingness to get on the ball and try to make things happen. It’s a novel approach among those wearing a red shirt today, but it might just catch on.
75 min Nigel Reo-Coker replaces James Milner. Like for like.
78 min Evra wins a corner. Giggs swings it to the far post, but O’Shea’s header is straight at Friedel.
79 min Ashley Young is booked for dissent.
GOAL! Manchester United 2-2 Aston Villa (Ronaldo 80) What a brilliant goal from Ronaldo. Carrick and Giggs played a one-two on the edge of the box, and then, with Villa defenders converging, Carrick switched the ball quickly across the face of the area to Ronaldo, who took a touch and swept a stunningly Are Prada Trainers Made In Vietnam accurate left-footed shot from 20 yards across goal, just past Friedel’s left hand and into the bottom corner. What a weird game Ronaldo has had: he has done bugger all apart from, y’know, score two wonderful goals.
82 min It is fair to say that the next eight minutes are of reasonable importance in the context of the season.
83 min John O’Shea is the biggest disgrace in the history of football. Shorey had run 60 yards then to the edge of the area and O’Shea just stood there gawping at him, like a particularly dumb dog, while Shorey ran past and into the box. Only the diligence of Tevez stopped Shorey getting a shot in.
84 min Fletcher plays a good one-two with Giggs and spanks a lovely half-volley towards goal. It was probably going over, but Friedel arched his back and fingertipped it higher just to make sure.
86 min This is anyone’s game. It’s absurdly open, and Villa are still a huge threat on the break, especially when somebody gets one-on-one against O’Shea.
87 min Macheda nods the ball down to Ronaldo on the edge of the box, to the right of centre. He takes a touch into the box and then lashes it just over at the near post. That was a half-decent chance for a finisher of his quality.
88 min Welbeck replaces Tevez. The combined age of United’s front pair is almost lower than that of Ryan Giggs.
89 min Friedel makes a brilliant save to deny Welbeck. Ronaldo’s cross from the right was taken down beautifully by Welbeck, with his first touch spinning it around the defender and into the space. Time almost stood still as he moved onto the ball in slow motion, but Friedel flew from the line to save the shot with his right hand. Wonderful goalkeeping.
90 min There will be five minutes of added time. Where’s Steve Bruce when you need him?
90+1 min Evra stretches every sinew to intercept Petrov’s through ball to Young, who would have been clear on goal. That was incredibly close.
GOAL! Manchester United 3-2 Aston Villa (Macheda 90) What a goal! What an absolutely sensational goal from Federico Macheda! Giggs slid a ball down the side on the edge of the box and, with his back to goal, Macheda flicked it behind his own legs and away from his marker Luke Young before setting a glorious curler that went past Friedel and then shaped deliciously into the far corner. This is simply outrageous. The hairs on the back of the neck are powerless to resist this. He’s 17 years old!
90+4 min What has just happened? Seriously, I cannot believe how good that goal was. “snnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnjmtkyul.iuytnb,” SAYS ALEX NETHERTON. Incidentally, if anyone wants to talk about injury time, that was in the 93rd minute. It’s not even an issue I’m afraid.
Full time: Manchester United 3-2 Aston Villa ‘Squeaky-bum time’ didn’t come close to describing that game and nor does ‘Football: bloody hell?’ come close to summarising it. That was an astonishing contest. It was low on quality for the most part – Villa were comfortably the better side for 70 minutes – but it was unbelievably tense and the five goals were all of an extremely high quality, most notably the fairytale winner from the 17-year-old debutant Federico Macheda in injury time.
That United go top of the table as a consequence is almost incidental: this will be talked about every bit as much as Steve Bruce’s 96th-minute winner against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, and indeed Mark Hughes’s season-turning injury-time equaliser against Oldham in the FA Cup semi-final a year later. This was the day an unknown 17-year-old kid, brought on as a hunch, took the game, the season and his entire life by the scruff of the neck and decided: this is mine.
I’m off for a lie-down. Bye.