MANCHESTER ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Aston Villa Manager Gerrard Houllier looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford on February 1 2011 in Manchester England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
It was quite likely all over as soon as Wayne Rooney gathered Edwin van der Sar's long punt, touch a touch and hammered home past Brad Friedel. If that wasn't enough to put it out of reach, Rooney's first half stoppage time goal, tapped in from as good a cross as you are ever likely to see supplied by Nani, likely was. Darren Bent was able to make things moderately interesting when he sent Stewart Downing's low cross into the net 58 minutes in, but Nemanja Vidic's stunning strike just five minutes later put things out of reach once and for all, with United the far more threatening side the rest of the way. It was a truly comprehensive besting by one of the best teams in England, and though some of the performances were disappointing the result shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. Villa are better and they're certainly headed in the right direction, but there's still a lot of work to be done before leaving Old Trafford with three points would be counted as anything but a surprise.
Somewhat worrying was the performance of Villa's back line; after a string of games that appeared to show them returning to form, Collins and Dunne were both pretty awful today and neither Ciaran Clark or Kyle Walker did much to impress out wide in their own right. It's only one game and one game against the team that has scored more goals than any other in the Premier League on their own pitch at that, but given the performances we saw early in the season it's at least some cause for concern. Also noteworthy (for the wrong reasons) was the performance of Stilyian Petrov; it was by several orders of magnitude the worst game I have ever seen from him and if there is any doubt about his place in the starting lineup he did himself no favors. He looked absolutely gassed from the get-go and as if that wasn't enough he was careless with the ball and offered nothing in the way of defense. There's certainly a case to be made that Stan has earned himself a few poor performances, but with that said had one of the younger players turned in such a performance it's likely they wouldn't see the first time again for quite some time.
On the more positive side, Jean Makoun was absolutely fantastic. He attempted 94 passes and completed 85 of them, was the only Villa player that was able to give Ryan Giggs any sort of trouble and for good measure flicked in a couple of clever balls that led to rare scoring chances. The other players still don't seem to be quite in sync with his thinking, but the cohesion did at times seem to be coming along and against a less stout defense the results produced by his efforts may well have been more fruitful. Also deserving of special praise is Brad Friedel who, on the day that he became the oldest player ever to put on an Aston Villa shirt, had a brilliant game in spite of letting in three United goals. Without some absolutely stunning saves it easily could have been much more lopsided in favor of United, and though it's likely this will be his last season with the club it's nice that he's going out in style if that does end up being the case.
In the end, Villa went behind to a superior opponent on the road and weren't able to scratch their way back in. There were moments of frustration, but nothing to be too discouraged about. There were moments of brightness where Villa looked quite dangerous and plenty to be excited about from Jean Makoun. Aside from the defense the rest of the team were largely average, and against most teams in the league that's probably enough to scrape out a result. Just not Manchester United. If there's a hangover against Fulham we can worry, but for now it's best to acknowledge that this one ended up just about as we'd expected and put it behind. Every single game between now and May looks winnable; there's plenty of time to pick up points the rest of the way.