Cristiano Ronaldo News

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Report: United 3 Aston Villa 1

13/01/2007 16:48, Report by Ben Hibbs

A record crowd Old Trafford witnessed a clinical United see off Aston Villa for a third time in as many weeks as the irrepressible Reds continued a run of form that has gleaned 44 points from a possible 51 in the last 17 matches.

There was a first goal of the season for Ji-sung Park, a first of his United career for Michael Carrick, and yet another goal for the in-form Cristiano Ronaldo as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side maintained the six-point lead over Chelsea.

Both managers made three changes from last Sunday’s FA Cup third round tie. Sir Alex recalled Edwin van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic and Paul Scholes at the expense of Tomasz Kuszczak, Wes Brown and Ryan Giggs. The Reds boss stuck with the strike-partnership of Wayne Rooney and Henrik Larsson which showed more than a glimmer of potential in the 2-1 cup victory at Old Trafford. Having recovered from a groin injury, French forward Louis Saha was named on an attack-minded bench which also included Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Ryan Giggs.

Martin O’Neill dropped Gabor Kiraly, who gifted Solskjaer his late winner, and called upon Thomas Sorensen for the first time since November following an injury lay-off. Olof Mellberg returned from suspension while Milan Baros, Villa’s goalscorer last week, was preferred to Juan Pablo Angel in attack. O’Neill set out to stifle United. The Reds make great use of the space between midfield and attack, so the Villa boss instructed Aaron Hughes to play just in front of the back four as part of a 4-1-3-2 formation to deny time and space for Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Henrik Larsson to create.

So dynamic are United in attack, however, that the Reds immediately looked for a route through. Gary Neville and Patrice Evra attacked whenever possible. And it was the United skipper who almost instigated an opening goal. Larsson met Neville’s brilliant cross from the right and forced a magnificent save from Sorensen after five minutes of play.

The breakthrough didn’t take long, 16 minutes in fact, and came courtesy of one of United’s most tenacious players. Neville’s cross was poorly dealt with, and when Gary Cahill fluffed his clearance, Ji-sung Park smacked home the his first goal this season at the second attempt.

The Korean midfielder becomes United’s 16th different goalscorer this season. The seventeenth followed two minutes later, when Michael Carrick grabbed his first ever goal for the club. Park attacked Wilfred Bouma from the right flank, before pulling the ball back to the edge of the area, where Carrick took a touch before volleying in United’s second. Villa looked in disarray, the Reds appeared composed and in control.

At times this season Sir Alex’s side have been profligate in front of goal, but the team is refining its performances as the season progresses. And with ten minutes of the half remaining, after a period of possession play, United grabbed a third to all but end the contest. Park again played a part. Gavin McCann dallied long enough to be dispossessed by the Reds winger. Then Carrick took over and curled a precision cross to the far post, where Ronaldo, December’s Premiership Player of the Month, headed home his 13th goal of the season – all of which have come in the league.

The only downside to a perfect first-half script was the continuance of Rooney’s poor luck in front of goal. With a minute to go he controlled the ball, turned away from Ridgewell and struck a left foot shot just wide of the post. He has now scored just three goals since the end of October, though his contribution through his work rate and link-up play is still invaluable.

O’Neill has built a impressive reputation as a motivator. His players trudged off at half time following a meagre first-half offering. They no doubt experienced a hair-dryer treatment of Ferguson proportions. It worked. After five minutes of the restart Gabby Agbonlahor pulled on back. Baros beat Vidic down the line and crossed for Agbonlahor to finish. It means the Villa forward has scored at Stamford Bridge, Anfield and Old Trafford in his first full season in the Premiership.

Larsson showed great intelligence in his movement and touch up front, while Rooney was heavily involved in United’s attacks. In one move involving Larsson, Carrick, Scholes and the 21-year-old striker, Rooney was again denied by Sorensen, who raced out to block his shot from 12 yards. Rooney moved to the left wing shortly after as Saha came on for Park to partner Larsson up front. And the Frenchman was denied a swift goal when Cahill cleared his shot off the line.

His position changed, but Rooney's luck didn’t. On 75 minutes he rattled the crossbar with a superb striker from the edge of the area. He’s edging closer, but his frustration remains. He was booked seconds later for a rash challenge on Baros, most probably because he felt referee Howard Webb should have given him a free-kick for a previous foul.

No matter, when United are in such fine form Rooney can work his way through a barren patch and when he returns the Reds will be merely stronger for it.

Team Line-ups

United: Van der Sar; Neville (c), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Park (Saha, 65), Carrick (O’Shea, 80), Scholes, Ronaldo; Rooney, Larsson (Solskjaer, 80).
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Giggs.

Aston Villa: Sorensen; Mellberg, Cahill, Ridgewell, Bouma (Samuel, 46); Barry, Hughes (Davis, 46), Osbourne, McCann, Barry; Agbonlahor, Baros.
Subs not used: Taylor (GK), Hendrie, Angel.

Attendance: 76,078 (United record)

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