Manchester United make City wait for title with comeback win but Harry Maguire suffers injury scare

·23 min read
Harry Maguire was forced off injured after a heavy tackle - POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Harry Maguire was forced off injured after a heavy tackle - POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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  • A win for Villa, ahead at the break, would have sealed the title for league leaders City

  • United turn game on its head with goals from Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani

  • Victory soured by ankle injury to England defender Harry Maguire with scan results expected on Monday

The Premier League title may be heading to their noisy neighbours but Manchester United can at least be crowned the comeback kings of this season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s players seem to only start their engines after giving their opposition a head start, this time through Bertrand Traore. This was the 10th time they have recorded victory after falling behind and on Sunday it kept Manchester City waiting to clinch the title.

Solskjaer does not fancy his chances of beating Leicester City and Liverpool when he saw the fixture schedulers hand him two games in three midweek days this week. But should they pull off another two wins, United would be four points behind Pep Guardiola’s team.

The blue ribbons are almost on the trophy but United are not giving up without a fight. Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani completed their turnaround. Villa’s misery was compounded by Ollie Watkins receiving a second yellow card when penalised for diving.

Solskjaer’s team are also within 90 minutes of being Invincibles away from home this season and require a positive result at Wolves on the final day of the campaign. They have also confirmed a top-four place with this victory.

“I think the players are learning and developing as a whole and getting better. You hear the spirit, the camaraderie, they back each other, there’s competition for places so I’m very happy we’ve qualified twice now,” Solskjaer.

“I believe in the boys and I think they believe in themselves,” said Solskjaer. “There wasn’t a lot wrong with the first half either we just didn’t have the margins. It was just about trusting ourselves again because we’ve done that so many times, it was just about ‘here we go again boys and keep moving the ball quicker.’ That was one of the messages.”

As they have done so often this season, United fell behind after a slow start. This time it was Traore taking advantage of their susceptibility to only going through the gears after conceding.

Scott McTominay lost the ball to John McGinn in midfield and it led to Douglas Luiz sending Traore away just inside the penalty area. The Burkina Faso forward forced his way around Victor Lindelof, who was well positioned but tackled with little conviction. His finish angled into the top corner.

This United team seem to respond to half-time team talks from Solskjaer and this was the case again. Within 11 minutes of the restart they were ahead.

Paul Pogba was the first to spring to life, teasing Luiz with the ball before taking a knee in the back of the legs to earn a penalty. Fernandes stuttered in his run up but calmly waited for Emi Martinez to move before rolling it into the opposite corner.

After Sergio Aguero’s miss kept the champagne on ice at the Etihad Stadium, this was a masterful spot-kick.

Manchester United's English striker Mason Greenwood (R) celebrates - Getty
Manchester United's English striker Mason Greenwood (R) celebrates - Getty

Greenwood nudged United ahead and became the club’s highest teenager goalscorer in the Premier League, ahead of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and other stars of previous eras.

His 16th strike came after being fed the ball from Aaron Wan-Bissaka and turning sharply to deceive Tyrone Mings. He took his shot early, beating Martinez at the near post. With two more games this week, Solskjaer took him off shortly after.

“It was well improved in the second half,” said Greenwood. “Ole said his bits in the changing room. It seemed to pay off. To be on the main stage and scoring important goals like today, it means a lot.

"We just concentrate on ourselves, we take it game by game. We want to get as many points as we can and keep the pressure on."

There was still work to do to keep City from celebrating. Maguire was at the heart of the action, forcing his own goalkeeper Dean Henderson into action as he tried to clear. He also picked up a booking, asking referee Chris Kavanagh “are you taking the p---?” as he tussled with Watkins.

Then came the sight Gareth Soutghate was fearing. Maguire hobbled off with a suspected calf injury to leave England sweating ahead of the Euros.

Cavani headed in from Marcus Rashford’s cross to complete the scoring, with Watkins dismissed late on for a second bookable offence after he was penalised for diving in the penalty area as Henderson rushed out to challenge him.

“The penalty for me is very soft, the red card for Ollie Watkins is very very soft and the word I would use is confused because I don’t know where we are with decisions recently,” said Villa manager Dean Smith.

“Maybe I should coach players to put the brakes on and go down. I am fed up with talking about penalty decisions against Manchester United.”

Luke Shaw says the challenge for United is to now start games as they finish them.

"The manager said we have been in this situation a lot of times, we have the quality, are a fit team and we always believe. When we got the first goal I felt we were going to win,” Shaw said.

"We are just focusing on ourselves, even more so we look at the City result and we are disappointed with the points we have let go this season. We have two games in four days, we need to be ready."

United must retain Cavani's services if they want to challenge City next year

By Jim White

For the second day on the bounce, Manchester City fans were obliged to put the champagne back in the fridge. After first their own team made a Panenka of their game against Chelsea, Manchester United’s victory against Aston Villa further stalled celebrations. The title might be theirs. But they will have to wait a tad longer to savour their moment.

And what prevented the cars from circling the Etihad parping their horns was an archetypical United performance. In the manner that has become familiar, starting like an old banger whose choke doesn’t properly fire, they went behind. As he had in the recent game against the champions elect, the Villa manager Dean Smith identified a weakness in his opponent.

Against City, it was exploiting the gap in behind an advancing right back. Against United, it was subjecting Victor Lindelof to physical challenge. The Swede’s lack of presence at centre back remains the Achilles heel of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team. Here Bertrand Troare pounced on his hesitation to unleash a magnificent finish.

But Smith - and indeed the more restrained element among City fans - must have been concerned about what would happen next. The point about this United is that they seem to require setback to sort themselves out. For a record tenth time in the Premier League this season, they secured three points after conceding first.

Up popped Bruno Fernandes to score an inevitable penalty, before Mason Greenwood gave the watching Gareth Southgate further pause for thought with his fifth goal in his last five Premier League matches. A superb goal it was too. The way he eased Tyrone Mings out of the way before placing his shot into the one part of the net Emiliano Martinez could not reach was indicative of his momentum. Having a striker available and reaching such form at such a point of the season is something the England manager must relish.

But it was the third goal that perhaps revealed more about where Manchester United go from here. If Solskjaer wants properly to challenge Pep Guardiola next season, rather than simply being in a position to delay his coronation, then there is one signing he has to make.

Not Jadon Sancho or Harry Kane (though both of those would help). Not Wesley Fofana or Youri Tielemans (though neither would weaken his side). No, the player whose signature he has immediately to secure is Edinson Cavani, whose contract comes to an end next month and has made noises about wishing not to remain.

The Uruguayan arrived on the pitch here with 25 minutes remaining. The way he ruffled Greenwood’s hair as they swapped places on the touchline revealed much about the way his presence has helped the youngster develop his game. That is not to suggest his usefulness is restricted to acting as mentor.

Cavani netted United's third goal at Villa Park - REUTERS
Cavani netted United's third goal at Villa Park - REUTERS

What the Uruguayan brings to this United side is simple: authority. Many of us thought when he signed last summer that he was in the north west to buff up his pension. A positive Covid test and his suspension for inappropriate comments on social media delayed for some time hint of what he might offer the club beyond a few shirt sales.

But in the last couple of months, we have had proper sight of him. And it has been magnificent. His fitness, his speed of thought, the absolute delight he still takes in putting the ball in the net show what he might contribute. His goal was an example of why he poses such a threat. After a scrabble around the penalty area, the ball made its way to Marcus Rashford out on the right wing.

Even as it was being passed wide, Cavani began his move, suddenly sprinting ahead of Matty Cash, to gift himself the space in which he could meet Rashford’s cross with a deft header beyond Martinez. It was his eighth goal in his last seven games. More to the point, it was a masterclass of centre forward play.

United may have lost one fewer match than City this season, but they have drawn five more. If Solksjaer wishes next season to convert those draws into wins and make a proper dash for the title, he needs Cavani to provide the difference.

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03:01 PM

Full time: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 3

Yet another match in which United had to come from behind, but that is what they have done. They came from 0-1 down, scored three, and they have ensured that the City champagne goes back on ice.

I'll take in the manager quotes below, and we'll get straight away to the report, above. Cheers!

02:57 PM

90+ mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 3

That goal and sending off double blow has knocked the stuffing out of Villa a bit. It was all going so well. But this game is effectively over, six minutes of injury time or not.

02:54 PM

88 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 3

Villa hit a long ball forward, Henderson comes out, Watkins goes down... and is booked for diving! And rightly so, I would say, on the evidence of that replay. And what's more, it is his second yellow. Watkins is off!

02:52 PM

GOAL! Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 3 (Cavani 87)

Lovely bit of play from United, as Marcus Rashford looks up, flicks a clever little cross right into the danger area... and there's the veteran Edinson Cavani with the perfect run across the defence. Nice glancing header from Cavani and that's the points.

02:51 PM

85 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Villa having a good go, and why not? But they are yet to find a way through and they are committing a lot of men forward.

02:47 PM

81 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Villa come with a late run here. Traore finds himself free on the left and hits the target but, alas, also the keeper

02:46 PM

80 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Davis does brilliantly to overpower Lindelof - who has not had a good game. Keinan D should have shot but instead plays it to Watkins, and United scramble back.

02:42 PM

76 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Scrappy period. McGinn booked. Subs.

Eric Bailly on for Spamhead. Davis and Wesley are on, El Ghazi and Barkley off for AVFC.

02:41 PM

76 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Harry Maguire comes off, comes back on, and then immediately goes down. That is not a great sight for Southgate: he's coming off injured...

Barkley, who has been very quiet, blooters a freekick over. He is also coming off.

02:38 PM

72 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

El Ghazi clatters Maguire. He looks hurt. He is limping off.

02:35 PM

Been an impressive comeback so far

Dean Henderson could do nothing about Bertrand Traore's first half rocket - Getty
Dean Henderson could do nothing about Bertrand Traore's first half rocket - Getty

02:32 PM

68 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Cavani back helping out to deny Watkins. From the ensuing corner, Mings batters Fernandes. Rashford's also been whacked.

02:32 PM

67 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Maguire's going in the book for cuddling Watkins as Watkins was looking to break. Spamhead has more bookings than anyone else in the league, but has not been suspended. Smart!

02:29 PM

64 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Mason Greenwood, who took that goal so well, is coming off fro Edinson Cavani.

Douglas Luiz also gets the hook. Ramsey on.

02:26 PM

61 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Game runs on for ages before VAR VAR VAR eventually rules: no.

02:25 PM

60 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

From that corner... has that hit Greenwood on the hand? Cleared by United. VAR is checking but the game is carrying on.

02:24 PM

60 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Target whips it in, Maguire gets bravely across Traore and heads it behind for a corner, getting clumped in the process.

02:23 PM

59 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

But the ball is soon coming back at Villa. Cross. Maguire beats McGinn all ends up with the header match up and heads it just wide.

02:23 PM

58 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

Konsa and Rashford tangle for the ball, and there's a bit of afters.

From that, a corner. Cleared.

02:22 PM

GOAL! Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2 (Greenwood 57)

Gareth Southgate is watching in the stands (mask: correctly applied) and he will have plus/minus feelings about this. Brilliant from an England attacker, not so good from an England defender.

Wan-Bissaka drove forward from the right, cut inside, played it to the feet of Greenwood. The young United forward totally out-thought Mings there, sucking him in and then rolling him before shooting.

02:19 PM

53 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 1

If you were going to pick the next goalscoring team here you'd deffo go United. They look up for it, the game is all played in Villa's half rn.

02:16 PM

GOAL! Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 1 (Fernandes 52p)

Stuttering run-up from Bruno F, and he tucks it low and into the corner. Villa have shot themselves in the foot there.

02:14 PM

48 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

United asking all the questions, Pogba and Douglas Luiz are having a good old wrestle in the Villa box... Pogba slips and loses it, and is moving away from goal, and seems to be going nowhere - but Luiz has lunged in! Cut him in half. Idiot! He has given away a needless penalty.

02:12 PM

48 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

United have a corner, the reliable Emmi with a punch. Fernandes tries and fails to snaffle it.

02:10 PM

46 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

We are back underway.

02:00 PM

United have got 28 points

from losing positions so far this season, 25 of them away from home. If they don't get something, City are going to win the Title.

John McGinn of Aston Villa battles for possession with Paul Pogba of Manchester United - Getty
John McGinn of Aston Villa battles for possession with Paul Pogba of Manchester United - Getty

01:54 PM

Half time: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

Man United have dominated, they've had 66% of the ball or thereabouts, but they have lacked quality at the key moments.

01:53 PM

45 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

Rare foray for forward for AV, who have been pinned back. Traore swings the cross in, El Ghazi cannot get there. Needed a step ladder.

Villa are trying to press from the front, and Watkins has clattered Maguire. Booked.

Watkins in the action again a second or two later as he then tries a long shot from range. Easy enough for the keeper, and that will do it for the first half.

01:50 PM

42 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

Konsa again - this time pipping Fernandes at the post as they both look to get involved with the cross from A Wan-Bissaka.

01:47 PM

40 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

United down the right, hard low cross, parried by the keeper Martinez - and brilliant defensive awareness from Konsa who anticipates were the ball will rebound to. Gets there first, clears. Pogba a distant second in that battle.

This is a good period for MUFC.

01:44 PM

37 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

Rashford with the ball, drives forward, lays it to Pogba. But no movement around him. United recycle the ball. Good spell this. Eventually Marcus Rashford gets the shot away. Straight at the keeper.

01:41 PM

34 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

Fernandes attempts to lob Martinez from 35 yards but that sails well over.

01:40 PM

31 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

El Ghazi tries to find Watkins but Henderson collects.

01:39 PM

30 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

Good busy game but neither side creating a massive amount at the moment.

01:35 PM

26 mins: Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 0

United fullbacks looking dangerous. Now it's Wan-B down the other side. But the quality of delivery is not quite there yet.

01:31 PM

GOAL! Aston Villa 1 Man United 0 (Traore 23)

YES JOHN MCGINN! That's a brilliant bit of midfield play, pressing and hunting down the ball, he robs an opponent (McTominay) just outside the United box and starts a dangerous attack. Douglas Luiz feeds Traore, and Bert Traore gets hold of it, drives into the box and lets fly with an unstoppable shot.

Lindelof won't enjoy watching that back - he lost his man.

01:28 PM

22 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

Shaw, on the other hand, seems to be in a rich vein of form. He's enjoying himself down that left again, again a ball is played in, and again Mason Greenwood is on the premises without quite having a clear chance.

01:27 PM

20 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

Pogba with some commanding play in midfield, building and attack, and it's played out to Bruno F who tries a ball into the box for Greenwood, but his pass is overdone.

The last few times I have watched Fernandes he has not been quite the force of earlier in the season. Bit jaded perhaps?

61 appearances this term - no wonder.

01:24 PM

18 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

Villa have come into this - 60% of the ball in the last ten.

01:22 PM

16 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

Rashford with a break, he's got the run on Cash. He drifts in with the ball and slips it to Fernandes, but the United colleagues have crowded each other there and Bruno cannot sort his feet out.

01:18 PM

12 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

But Maguire is up well and gets that mighty fivehead on the ball. It bongos away clear.

01:18 PM

11 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

Villa more in it these last few minutes though. They have a couple of corners.

01:15 PM

8 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

Pogba and Shaw are overloading Cash down the United left/Villa right. Traore needs to help the fullback out there. Another dangerous sortie down that flank there.

01:13 PM

5 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

Shaw. Drives in from the left, cracks a decent shot at goal. Straight at the keeper and parried.

It's all United so far.

01:10 PM

4 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

Rashford bends in a shot, which is deflected... Greenwood sneaks in around the back and keeps the ball alive, knocks it into the area. But there's nobody really following in.

01:09 PM

2 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

Villa still without Grealish of course. How they miss him.

There he is in the stand, with a little hat on saying 'supreme'. As in chicken?

Jack has got a mask on, but has not managed to get it over his nose.

01:06 PM

1 mins: Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 0

Early knock for McGinn. Pogba lunged in. Lucky for Paul it was too early for the ref to think about a card.

01:05 PM

United are in that

white and black diagonal horror. Villa in their grand old claret. It is the visitors who will kick us off.

01:05 PM

The players take the knee

and we are about ready at Villa Park.

01:03 PM

Players are in the tunnel

"When McGinn plays well, four or five around him play well," is the discussion between Troy Deeney, and Joleon. So proud of the former Hibs man. I knew as soon as I saw him that he could play at the top end of the Premier League. I reckon he's got one more upwards move from Villa, too. Still only 26.

12:56 PM


It's second plays 11th in the Premier League. Not sure Villa have a huge amount to play for. Some of their lads might be eyeing up the Euro squads of course. Watkins a late runner? Has Barkley's day been and gone? Mings I assume will be there or thereabouts.

12:52 PM

Looks a nice day up there

The players are out on the pitch warming up.

12:49 PM

Dean Smith says

"It is going to be a tight game. Ole has improved them and they have been Man City's closest challengers."

12:35 PM

Support for United's fixture plight

comes from an unlikely source: no less a personage than Jurgen Klopp is bemoaning the pile-up. Jurgen Klopp slams Premier League's 'crazy' rescheduling as Liverpool face uphill battle to make top four

Why does Klopp care? Because he is worried United will have to put out any old tut when they face Liverpool's Champions League spot rivals Leicester.

12:29 PM

United changes

Dean Henderson, Victor Lindelof, Scott McTominay and Marcus Rashford are the alterations to Thursday's 3-2 loss to Roma in the Europa League semi-finals.

12:15 PM

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

"We have freshened it up from Thursday. Of course I have got to think about the three games but it has been focused on this one. We will deal with Tuesday and Thursday after this. Always difficult, Villa: their organisation has improved from last season and they have players up front who can hurt you.

"I haven't heard the players moan at all. Only me! They just want to play, they are very resilient."

Asked if there's any chance Citeh doing a Devon Loch: "I don't think it looks likely but we can only win our own games. We certainly don't want to hand it to them."

12:14 PM

Aston Villa

are unchanged. Strong side for United - they have named the same side that would have played Liverpool last weekend. Think I am right in saying that they have changed four from the Roma game.

12:13 PM


Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett, Douglas Luiz, McGinn, Traore, Barkley, El Ghazi, Watkins. Subs: Heaton, Wesley, Nakamba, Elmohamady, Hause, Davis, Ramsey, Philogene-Bidace, Chukwuemeka.

Man Utd: Henderson, Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Pogba, Rashford. Subs: de Gea, Bailly, Cavani, Mata, Alex Telles, Matic, Williams, van de Beek, Tuanzebe.

Referee: Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire)

12:10 PM

Joleon Lescott

"Leicester City will be feeling like it is itchy bum time."

Goodness me Joleon. I'm not sure that's quite the expression.

11:51 AM

Preview: Manchester United start busy run of games with Villa challenge

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer trusts his players to kick-off an unenviable run of three Premier League matches in five days with victory in Sunday's "massive game" at Aston Villa.

The Red Devils head to the midlands fresh from sealing their place in the Europa League final on Thursday, when they lost the semi-final second leg 3-2 at Roma but progressed 8-5 on aggregate.

Villarreal await in Poland but the focus now is on Villa as United continue a tough run of four matches in eight days, with home games against Leicester and Liverpool following hot on the heels of Sunday's match.

"Sunday at 2pm is not the problem," Solskjaer said. "That was always scheduled. Tuesday, Thursday after Thursday, Sunday, that's a big problem.

"I trust my players to get a result (against Aston Villa). First of all, Sunday is a big game for us. Of course, Sunday is a massive game and we're looking forward to it after the boost of getting into a final.

"This will hopefully give us energy and then let's see what we do Tuesday and Thursday. We just have to take it day by day and hopefully we can play those games."

The anti-Glazer protest that saw last weekend's clash with Liverpool postponed means Sunday's trip to Villa will be their first Premier League match in a fortnight.

United remain safely ensconced in second as Leicester managed just four points from three matches during that period, giving them a four-point cushion over the third-placed Foxes.

The Red Devils' superior goal difference means they will wrap up a top-four finish by winning at Villa Park, where United have not lost a Premier League match since 1995.

Solskjaer's side remain unbeaten on their top-flight travels this season and face a Villa side still without influential skipper Jack Grealish, but the United boss will not take the hosts for granted.

"I think they're a very good team," he said of Dean Smith's men. "You saw them last week beat Everton.

"They've had a very good season. They had a little spell with some worse results but we played them in a pre-season friendly before this season and lost.

"We won a hard-fought game 2-1 at Old Trafford. We know it's going to be tough but we're looking forward to it.

"The energy that we used tonight will probably be filled up twice [over] because of getting to a final.

"I think we'll recover, refuel, we're looking forward to this game, the players are looking forward to it. They know it's a big game for us."