In Week 17's match, Manchester United set their hopes to continue their recent run of brilliance with a seventh victory in a row. Their opponents this week, Aston Villa, had motivations of their own, looking to separate themselves from the relegation zone. United had their own need for the three points, sitting eight points back from league leaders Chelsea.
United played their 3-5-2 formation for the first time on the road. David De Gea started in goal. Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, and Jonny Evans started on the backline, a rare moment for United's backline this year as they started the previous match together. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia started at left and right wingbacks. Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher, and Juan Mata played in central midfield behind Radamel Falcao, getting his first start since his calf injury, and Robin van Persie. Villa deployed a 5-3-2 formation to counter United's.
Manchester dominated possession in the first half of the match, but were not clinical in the attacking third to take advantage of their advantage in possession. In the 18th minute, Aston Villa capitalized on United's failure to score. Christian Benteke scored a goal on a free kick given by referee Lee Mason on an unnecessary Darren Fletcher foul. As a defender, Jonny Evans has to do better against Benteke on the aerial pass, either to win the header in the air or close him down sooner before he's controlled the pass. Aston Villa: 1, Manchester United: 0. In the 32nd minute, Ashley Young created a moment of danger for Villa's goal, playing a cross that narrowly missed United heads and almost beat the goalkeeper at the far post.
In the second half, United returned to controlling the match with even more gusto and affirmation. An equalizer was well on its way and it was realized in the 53rd minute. Falcao headed in goal on the edge of the six-yard box on a quality chance created by Ashley Young left footed cross. Aston Villa: 1, United: 1. United settled back into possession of the ball, looking for the crucial goal that would grant them a win and the critical three points. Lee Mason made a pivotal decision in the 65th minute on a collision between Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor. Young arrived first to the ball and played it away, putting himself in harm's way. Agbonlahor battered into Young with the ball well away, prompting a decision from the referee. Mason reached into his shirt pocket for the red card, the first card of the match, for what he perceived was a reckless challenge. In hindsight, he should see that the foul deserved a yellow card. With the man advantage, United carved out even more possession, but stilled lacked the polish to create strong chances. In the 75th minute, Tyler Blackett received United's only yellow card for a tackle on Villa's Matthew Lowton. In turn, Aston Villa's goalkeeper Brad Guzan earned a yellow card for dissent, arguing for the youngster to receive a red card for his foul. Late in the match, Michael Carrick and James Wilson combined in passing to produce a chance for Wilson, who curled a shot far post, good for goal, but smothered by Guzan.
United settled for a point this week, lacking the attacking quality to not only claim the three points, but also claim they deserved them. Again, United's chance creation came into question, as they really created few, true scoring chances. United's title shot still appears hopeful going forward, as players return from injuries. Ángel Di María returned from his nagging thigh injury as a substitute. Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling should be available for next week's match. Luke Shaw becomes available shortly afterwards. Daley Blind's earliest return date lands in mid January. Manchester hopes to return to winning ways in their next match home against Newcastle. The contest will be aired Friday, December 26th at 10:00AM ET on NBC Sports Network.