There were plenty of discussion points during Manchester United’s 1-0 loss to Aston Villa.
A late winner from Kortney Hause ensured Dean Smith’s team came away with the three points from Old Trafford, but that doesn’t tell all of the story from a United perspective.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team managed 28 shots on goal, but just four were on target, which has to be seen as a problem in itself.
After the match, United’s manager said the team lacked quality in the final third, which was the difference;
He said to BBC Sport: “We were very aggressive, very good on transition, got forward quickly but the final shot, final pass and final decision wasn’t always the best one. 20 of the 30 attempts were blocked.”
Indeed, United were poor in the last part of the transition, but that wasn’t the only reason why the game was lost.
Once again, the team conceded from another set-piece, which was a massive issue throughout last season too.
Although it looked offside, it shouldn’t be an excuse and United goalkeeper, David de Gea, accepted that his side needed to do better in the match;
“It’s a very disappointing day for us but I think there are no excuses today,” he told MUTV.
“We were playing at home with confidence and if we want to win big trophies like the Premier League, we need to win these types of games.”
“We conceded from a set-piece and I saw the replay and probably it’s offside. He [Watkins] was very close to me. Again, that happens.”
It wasn’t just defensively where United got caught out by a set-piece. In the dying stages of the match, United were awarded a penalty after Hause handled the ball inside the box to present Solskjaer’s team with a lifeline.
Before the match, there were debates which stretched back to when United re-signed Cristiano Ronaldo, with regard to set-piece takers.
As we’ve seen throughout Ronaldo’s career, he has always taken the free kicks and penalties wherever he’s been, but there was a difference at United because of his fellow Portuguese compatriot, Bruno Fernandes.
27-year-old Fernandes has been sensational from set-pieces ever since he joined the club in January 2020, converting three free-kicks in this period.
He’s also been Solskjaer’s man at penalty taking and as we saw from last season, he was brilliant at it.
But, with Ronaldo being brought in, no one knew how it was going to be evenly distributed. In fact, when you compare the two players throughout their careers, Fernandes has a better record.
Cristiano Ronaldo/Bruno Fernandes career penalties, via PlanetFootball
Club penalties taken: 147/44
Club penalties scored: 125/39
Success rate: 85.0/90.7%
International penalties taken: 20/3
International penalties scored: 14/3
Success rate: 70/100%
Total penalties taken: 167/46
Total penalties scored: 139/42
Total success rate: 81.4/91.3%
Although Ronaldo has taken more throughout his career, the stats prove that Fernandes has a better conversion rate. So, this may have been behind the thinking when he picked up the ball to take the spot-kick in the 91st minute.
Placing the ball down, the pressure was on and immediately, there was a difference. Fernandes’ run towards the ball changed and instead went for pure power. The result? A penalty was missed and a football into row Z.
It ended up being a nightmare and one can only think what Ronaldo was thinking at the time. He thrives off those moments and has done so throughout his career.
Even with the set-pieces, Ronaldo took a couple today, but there have been other matches where Fernandes has taken them. It ultimately creates confusion.
So, moving forward, Ronaldo and Fernandes need to decide between them who’s taking the penalties and who’s taking the free-kicks. Otherwise, United will find themselves in a situation that was similar to the Henderson/De Gea saga. We all know how much debate that caused.
Solskjaer and the United coaching staff will also have an input with this and when he spoke after the game, he said it was decided before the match who would step up if needed;
He told BBC Sport: “It [distractions before taking a penalty] doesn’t get in Bruno’s head. He’s strong mentally and he’ll step forward again. The decision [on who takes penalties] is made before the game.”
It would be wise to let Fernandes take the next penalty to build up his confidence from the spot, but from then on, it needs to be a decisive routine.
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