[Premier League] Aston Villa 1-1 Manchester United
Villa: Christian Benteke (18)
ManUtd: Radamel Falcao (53)
Radamel Falcao rescued a point for Manchester United at Villa Park on Saturday with a brilliant second-half header as the Reds were held 1-1 by ten-man Aston Villa.
The Barclays Premier League’s lowest scorers took the lead against the run of play on 18 minutes through Christian Benteke’s fine finish, before Falcao struck early in the second period to earn a draw for United, who remain third in the table.
Louis van Gaal stuck with the same system which helped United overcome Liverpool last Sunday but he made two changes to the first XI, with Darren Fletcher coming in for the ill Marouane Fellaini and Falcao starting his first match, in place of James Wilson, since Everton at home at the start of October.
It was Falcao’s strike partner, the in-form Robin van Persie, who had United’s first sightings of goal during a rather cagey opening quarter to the game. The first came on three minutes when the Dutchman was well found after a good surge down the left by former Villa winger Ashley Young, but van Persie scuffed his effort across the box rather than towards goal. He did manage to connect brilliantly with a superb cross-field pass from Wayne Rooney on 17 minutes however, but his right-foot volley was well gathered by Brad Guzan.
Despite not creating a whole host of openings, it had been all United up to that point so it came as something as a shock to everyone inside Villa Park when Paul Lambert’s side made the breakthrough a minute later.
Fabian Delph hoisted a free-kick into the box which was brought down by Benteke at the back post. The striker twisted and turned his way past Jonny Evans before curling an unstoppable shot past the helpless David De Gea.
The earlier pattern in the match continued thereafter with United dominating possession once more but clear-cut chances remained hard to come by. Valencia headed well wide soon after the goal, before van Persie slipped Falcao through but the Colombian was unable to get enough power on his shot to trouble Guzan. The Villa keeper had to be alert on 33 minutes though when Young’s hopeful cross went all the way through towards the stopper who dived to his left to palm it away.
Van Gaal had said before the match that while results had been pleasing of late, the performances could still improve. With that in mind he shuffled things around at the break as Tyler Blackett replaced Fletcher, and took up a spot in defence, allowing Michael Carrick, who had again started in a three-man central backline, to shift forward into midfield.
After De Gea had made a typically brilliant, point-blank save from a Benteke header just after the restart, van Gaal’s change seemed to have the desired effect as the Reds sparked into life as an attacking force.
Van Persie and Mata both forced Guzan into solid stops before the Reds drew level in superb fashion on 53 minutes. Young made another menacing run down the left before standing a cross up for Falcao who planted a header past Guzan before sprinting towards the deliriously happy United fans in the far corner to celebrate.
Angel Di Maria made his long-awaited return to action just after the hour-mark, in place of van Persie, as the Reds went in search of all three points.
United’s cause was given a boost on 65 minutes when the hosts went down to ten men as Gabby Agbonlahor was given his marching orders for a late tackle on Young.
The Reds reverted to a 4-4-2 formation for the final 16 minutes of the game as James Wilson came on for Valencia, but clear-cut chances began to dry up despite plenty of possession.
Villa substitute Leandro Bacuna fired a stunning effort just over in the dying stages, but a seventh straight win was not to be for the Reds who were forced to settle for a point.