Manchester United vs Aston Villa 2020/21

Match Analysis
Mustapha Hassan

Mustapha Hassan

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In a match that was the most thrilling in the seventeenth round of the English Premier League, Manchester United were able to seize the victory and three points from Aston Villa and join Liverpool on 33 points to restore the classic conflict between England’s big two teams once again.

Manchester United, under Solskjaer, are trying to win the Premier League title, while Aston Villa, they are trying to improve on their previous position in the Premier League this season. The two teams brought a very good tactical match to an end, and United deserved to win despite the best efforts of the Aston Villa players. This tactical analysis breaks down the tactics of the match.


Manchester United started the game with a 4-4-2 diamond formation, David de Gea was the goalkeeper and in the defensive line, Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire were the centre backs. Luke Shaw was the left-back and Aaron Wan-Bissaka was the right back, and the midfielders were Paul Pogba, Fred, Scott McTominay and Portuguese star, Bruno Fernandes. In the attack, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were two strikers.

On the other hand, Aston Villa started the match with their 4-2-3-1 formation, Emiliano Martínez was the goalkeeper, and the four defenders were Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings and Matt Targett. The midfielders were John McGinn, Jack Grealish, Douglas Luiz, Anwar El Ghazi and Bertrand Traoré, and Ollie Watkins was the striker.

Manchester United build-up and their transitions

Manchester United players build-up fast, as they rely on the midfield duo of Pogba and Fernandez receiving the ball between the opponent’s lines, and the attacking duo moves in the offensive areas of the opponent.

Manchester United depended mainly in the build-up stage of switching play to exploit the space behind the Aston Villa full-backs, this was done by moving one of the midfield players, Pogba or Bruno to receive the ball and then passing it directly to the sides, here a problem appears because the 4- 4-2 diamond has no wings to expand the field, but they regain that by turning one of the attackers Martial or Rashford to the wing position and dropping to receive the ball during the build-up.

Here is an example of this case, Pogba moved to receive the ball and overcame the pressure of the Aston Villa players and then passed the ball to Rashford, who moved into a wing position.

Then Fernandes and Pogba move into the central channels and one of the attackers who turned into the wing position Rashford or Martial moved to the half-spaces while the other striker moved to the central channel.

This move is based on one of the attackers moving to the wing position and the exchange of roles with the full-back on the same side of the field, below we see that, after Rashford moved to the wing position and dropped to receive the ball from Pogba, Wan-Bissaka moved behind Aston Villa’s left-back, which was created by Rashford’s previous move.

Since Fernandez joined Manchester United, they are moving the ball faster than before, the player can always move in the right spaces between the opponent’s lines in the offensive phase and also has the ability to receive and pass correctly and quickly to move the attack to dangerous areas always where the opponent’s players can’t return. He passes the balls behind them or in the space for the attackers, he also has the ability to choose good places in the offensive areas to get the second balls and use them well, which was absent from the team before Fernandes joined.

Fernandez reacts quickly in offensive transitions, the player moves correctly between the opponent’s lines and then receives the ball in this space and quickly passes it forward in the dangerous areas to the opponent’s defenses, as shown below.

As we mentioned earlier, the strikers’ movements during the build-up, they also depend on these same moves in the transitions. One of the attackers moves to play as a winger, which is usually Rashford due to his speed and ability to expand the field and then moves to the nearby half-space, while the other striker moves to the central channels.

Below is an example of the moves of Manchester United players during the transitions, after Rashford passed the ball to Wan-Bissaka, he moved towards the right half-space to be an option for passing again, while Martial moved to the depth.

Aston Villa attacking phase

On the other hand, Aston Villa played a very good game and they deserved to have a better result than defeat. Villa players mainly relied on Grealish in offensive cases. When you have a player with great potential, you strive to make the most of his potential in your favour and this is what Aston Villa were doing with their star player, Grealish.

If we talk about the offensive statistics of the player, he was undoubtedly an important factor in this match, Grealish was the main player in recovering the ball 52 times, while the closest player after him was Pogba and Fernandes 44 times.

Grealish took advantage of the left side to do a wonderful job throughout the match and provided his team’s assist for the only goal from that side. It also helped him in that the spaces that were available to him behind Wan-Bissaka. Below we show this to good effect.

Aston Villa players in the offensive case were overloading the box with a large number of players for two reasons, so that they confused the opponent’s defensive players inside the box and weakened their control, and also so that there were one or more of their players inside the penalty area without pressure, so they could use the opportunity to score.

Here, for example, 5 Aston Villa players stand inside the box while Grealish has the ball. We also note that two Aston Villa players are almost without pressure from Manchester United’s defenders.

When Aston Villa players have the ball, they move parallel to the player who has the ball, in order to give him more opportunity to pass and also so that the opponent’s defenders cannot monitor them in parallel, so there is always an Aston Villa player without pressure as shown below. Grealish has the ball on the left side while there were three players from Aston Villa available for passing.


Manchester United won an exciting match and gained the three points which took them level with Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.

Manchester United certainly aspire to win the Premier League title this season, and also in doing so would stop their traditional rival, Liverpool, from reaching the same number of titles.

On the other hand, Aston Villa played well. Grealish, was the man of the match, with his many good moves. He created many opportunities for his team mates and as we saw most of Villa’s dangerous attacks came from Grealish.

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