In what was an all-Premier League showdown on Monday night, Manchester United managed to extend on their FA Cup adventure with a 1-0 win against Aston Villa at Old Trafford.
However, although the Reds might have booked a meeting against Championship outfit Middlesbrough for next month, it was another far from impressive display by Ralf Rangnick’s squad.
In a contest between two sides who can boast a string of FA Cup achievements, United will know that they were lucky to have booked their spot in the fourth-round for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons.
With chances at both ends of the pitch on Monday night, we have taken a look at the main talking points from Old Trafford.
Victory doesn’t cover all the Old Trafford cracks
Opening up the New Year with a sluggish 1-0 defeat at home against Wolves, it is fair to say that Manchester United have struggled to find an immediate boost since Rangnick arrived at the club.
With constant reports about a negative atmosphere among the more senior players in his squad, the one-time RB Leipzig boss made it clear prior to Monday’s tie that his new squad were showing signs of improvement.
However, while Scott McTominay might have bagged what eventually turned out to be the winner from a glanced header after just eight minutes, it was another night where United failed to lay down a marker.
With both Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo forced to miss out due to minor knocks, the Reds were often heavily outplayed in front of an old Trafford crowd who did make their frustrations heard throughout.
Nevertheless, although it might have been another quiet display for the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, the former Premier League champions would have simply been glad to have dragged themselves over the finish line.
Huff and puff not enough for Villa
With it announced over the weekend that Barcelona star Philippe Coutinho is on the verge of completing a blockbuster move to the Midlands, some in Aston Villa’s camp would have been smelling a golden chance on Monday night.
However, failing to make it past the third-round of an FA Cup run since back in 2016, Steven Gerrard’s side once again fell short in a contest where they dominated large spells at Old Trafford.
Showing no signs of a setback despite McTominay’s early opener, the former Rangers boss should still be looking to take the positives away from Monday’s close-fought defeat.
With both Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins going close to tapping in at the back post in the first-half, Gerrard’s side were left furious when they saw their controversial equalizer chalked off five minutes after the break.
While Ings might have bundled the ball past David de Gea, it was ruled out by Michael Oliver
following a length VAR check that saw him decide Jacob Ramsey was offside and impeded
Edinson Cavani in the build-up.
A quick turnaround
Managing to land what was a hard-fought 1-0 win after dragging themselves over the finish line, Manchester United will be desperate to prove that Monday’s result was no fluke this weekend.
Knowing that they are still in what appears to be an uphill battle to secure another top-four this season, the Reds will make the trip to Villa Park on Saturday evening.
Last seen on Premier League duties getting hit with a deserved 1-0 defeat against Wolves, Rangnick will be hoping that he is able to welcome back both Maguire and Ronaldo for what should be another stern examination.
On the flip side, falling to their knees at the final whistle and feeling like they deserved to leave Old Trafford with their name in the fourth-round, Gerrard will know that his side must dust themselves down quickly.
While Villa might have enjoyed an immediate boost when bringing in the former Liverpool icon back in November, the Clarets are a side seeking a New Year’s boost on the pitch.
Ahead of welcoming United to the Midlands on Saturday, Gerrard’s side have now lost four of their last five matchups across all competitions, including a last-gasp 2-1 defeat away at Brentford last weekend.
Manchester United: De Gea, Dalot, Lindelöf, Varane, Shaw, Fred, McTominay, Rashford, Fernandes, Cavani, Greenwood
Subs: Lingard, van de Beek, Elanga
Aston Villa: Martínez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett, McGinn, Ramsey, Luiz, Buendía, Ings, Watkins
Subs: Philogene-Bidace, El Ghazi
Goals: McTominay 8′
Yellow Cards: Manchester United: Shaw, Dalot, Fred – Aston Villa: Ramsey
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Michael Oliver