For Manchester United’s first home fixture of the new season, Sir Alex Ferguson opts to go with the same starting line-up as last week at Everton.
Playing in his now preferred 4-3-3 formation are, in goal Edwin Van der Sar, a defensive line of Gary Neville-Rio Ferdinand-Mikael Silvestre-John O’Shea, a slightly unusual looking midfield of Darren Fletcher-Roy Keane-Paul Scholes (no Ronaldo, who’s on the bench or the still unwell Ryan Giggs) and a front line comprising Wayne Rooney-Ruud van Nistelrooy-Ji-Sung Park. Joining Ronaldo as substitutes are USA goalkeeper Tim Howard, Argentinian left back Gabriel Heinze, Alan Smith and the young Kieran Richardson.
The entire first half mostly consists of a scrappy midfield battle as both teams look to their game plans; United’s is mostly positive as they keep going forward in search of that vital first goal whilst Villa, somewhat predictably, just aim to keep things tight at the back and look for a chance to counter-attack. The absence of United’s wingmen makes it an untidy and not particularly reassuring 45 minutes in which United’s Korean midfielder Park is the unlikely standout player. Wayne Rooney is fairly muted, succeeding only in getting himself booked for a bad tackle on former Red Devil Eric Djemba-Djemba shortly before half-time.
The second half gets underway with United looking more forceful, presumably they’ve had a taste of the famous Ferguson hairdryer blast in the interval! It’s all to no good however and just short of the hour mark Sir Alex makes a double substitution. John O’Shea is replaced in defence by Heinze whilst the industrious and impressive Park is replaced by Ronaldo.
United up the pace now and their increased workrate pays off when a Ronaldo cross is poorly cleared by Villa central defender Mellberg and Ruud Van Nistelrooy gets an easy tap-in from close range. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!
That’s about it in terms of goalmouth excitement and after 77 minutes United take off striker Wayne Rooney and replace him with Alan Smith, which obviously signals Sir Alex’s desire to maintain a clean sheet. United nearly added a second just before the end when Van Nistelrooy gets past Villa goalkeeper Sorensen but Djemba-Djemba pops up to clear the ball off the goal line.
It’s been a solid but mostly pedestrian performance by United but the important thing is the victory, another 3 points in the bank and no goals conceded. Major plus points are the return to the team of Ronaldo and Heinze, who both add a lot more flair and composure to the team. Manchester United, by virtue of the early kick off, are, temporarily at least, top of the table.