Wednesday, April 10

McTominay’s header sends United as Villa rue squirts opportunities | FA Cup

Manchester United kept their best chance of breaking a five-year trophy drought alive with this victory. However, his exhibit offered the latest evidence that Ralf Rangnick has yet to prove the midseason Mr. Fixit he was hired to be.

Aston Villa will reflect on how they did not enjoy a win. Steven Gerrard’s men attacked whenever they wanted from the first minute to the last. Somehow United held on and while they remain in the Champions League, Rangnick’s brightest hope of ensuring the club does not match its longest sequence in 40 years without trophies remains a 13th FA Cup triumph.

The big problem for him, however, concerns a group of players who are stagnating: Victor Lindelöf, Marcus Rashford and Raphaël Varane were the main culprits tonight, but this is an upset throughout the team.

By the seventh game of his interim tenure, Rangnick knocked out Jadon Sancho, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Phil Jones, Nemanja Matic and Cristiano Ronaldo from the 1-0 loss to the Wolves, while Rashford, Diogo Dalot, Lindelöf, Fred and Bruno Fernandes started.

Sancho and Ronaldo had “muscle problems,” the German said, providing a first chance to see United without the latter in a game they must win, the earlier exclusion of the aging Portuguese under Rangnick and a meaningless Champions League exit against Young. Boys. In the absence of the 36-year-old, could the least spotted gegenpress on the team mentored by the so-called “godfather” of the show be more evident? The answer, in the first half at least, would be no.

Aston Villa’s new signing Philippe Coutinho was not involved in Steven Gerrard’s two trades as he saw Tyrone Mings and Ollie Watkins come in for Kourtney Hause and Bertrand Traoré.

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United’s mission was to play at a higher pace than recently. Fernandes and McTominay set the tone through quick passes and paid dividends early. Luke Shaw’s corner hit Fred, whose ball flown into the box was headed by McTominay with Ezri Konza guilty of not picking it up.

Villa’s response was immediate and they approached from the second of the two corners: Douglas Luiz shot from the left, Mings shot and Watkins came close to deflecting after Lindelöf’s failed attempt to clear his head.

This signaled just how open United was, a fact that was further illustrated when Emiliano Buendía entered like a ghost from inside his half, Fred was unable to stop him, before shooting, and missing, from inside the area.

Gerrard’s frustration was visible when Jacob Ramsey slammed through United’s weak resistance only to pass the ball out of reach. So at last, McTominay did what a midfielder should do: stop an attack by pushing the ball away from Buendía on the edge of the penalty area. John McGinn was the next Villa player to enjoy the sheer amount of space United gave him as he threw an effort at David de Gea, the Spaniard dove to the left to save.

Fernandes and Rashford have so far endured seasons to forget. The latter’s touch was noticeably off, while the former snorted in hopes of finding some inspiration. When Fernandes woke up, he threatened to rape Villa only to see his effort blocked.

However, United still looked vulnerable at the back, and Lindelöf’s poor control caused Watkins to jump before hitting the shot against the crossbar.

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Villa could have been three or four ahead at this stage. United’s next escape came when Ramsey’s attempt deflected from McTominay for a corner.

Rashford at least brilliantly closed the first half. He first conjured a deft takedown and passed to Edinson Cavani, who attacked Fernandes, only for the midfielder to fire overhead. Then Fernandes made Rashford run towards goal, Konsa did enough to deflect him.

Danny Ings heads in from close range but his shot is disallowed for offside.
Danny Ings heads in from close range but his shot is disallowed for offside. Photograph: Phil Noble / Reuters

United opened the second half with a corner from Fernandes that Villa repelled with ease. There was still little evidence of the solidity Rangnick desires. This was a team that moved through gears and they seemed to be punished for their carelessness when Danny Ings headed a well-worked free throw. After a long delay, referee Michael Oliver was ordered to look at the touchline screen again and dismissed the offside effort.

This raised the temperature. McGinn knocked out Fred, Shaw did the same to Matty Cash, the stadium became a wall of Cup fever noise, especially after Ings was called offside after Watkins had pushed home.

Villa was fully in charge of the procedures. United were unable to move beyond the edge of their area as the white shirt wave flowed towards them. This was simply not good enough for one side of his talent and pedigree.

De Gea went like a cat to save a Cash effort before Shaw’s latest foul cautioned him. At the other extreme, Rashford’s refusal to follow a rebound from Greenwood’s shot was bizarre. Near the final whistle, Villa was unable to capitalize on McGinn’s corner kick and thus United are still in the fray, but Villa, disconcertingly, is not.

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