Bruno Fernandes steers Manchester United past Aston Villa in thrilling Carabao Cup comeback

Bruno Fernandes fired United into the fourth-round draw   (Manchester United via Getty Imag)
Bruno Fernandes fired United into the fourth-round draw (Manchester United via Getty Imag)

Manchester United may not see it as revenge for Sunday, let alone 2021’s Europa League final defeat, but they found a way of overcoming Unai Emery. A prowess in knockout competitions helped give the quadruple Europa League winner such appeal to Aston Villa that they appointed him but their first defeat under the Spaniard came against a club who can testify to his excellence. Emery’s Villarreal are a major reason why United have not lifted a trophy since 2017 but Villa have gone 26 years without winning silverware and, four days after his first game, the Spaniard cannot claim the Carabao Cup this season after a night of fluctuating emotions. In a game of two halves, a subdued first followed by a stunning second, Villa led twice but succumbed to a familiar tormentor.

They may consider themselves fortunate that Bruno Fernandes was suspended on Sunday, when Emery began his reign with a 3-1 victory over United. He returned for the second half of a double header and took his tally against Villa to six goals in seven games, scoring the decisive third goal after providing the assist for Anthony Martial’s equaliser. Fernandes started his night out of position, shunted out to the right wing to accommodate Donny van de Beek, but nevertheless ended it as the central figure.

He was not the lone architect of victory. Marcus Rashford celebrated his return to the England squad with United’s second leveller, while Erik ten Hag has made a series of telling substitutions in his reign and bringing on Alejandro Garnacho was another. On a night when United showed their character, Ten Hag made his side stronger with his changes.

Rashford drives past Tyrone Mings for United’s second equaliser (Getty Images)
Rashford drives past Tyrone Mings for United’s second equaliser (Getty Images)

That is part criticism, part compliment. Van de Beek started three consecutive games for the first time in his United career and produced a performance of ineffective anonymity to suggest he should not do so again. Fernandes made a goal as an ersatz winger but United looked more dangerous when he became the No. 10 and Rashford led the line. Each had a warning shot before scoring, Rashford coming close once in the minutes before, Fernandes twice. Likewise, Scott McTominay curled a shot against the bar shortly before he stretched to volley in United’s fourth.

In the first half, in contrast, remarkably little happened. The restart brought two swift exchanges of goals as United only trailed first for a minute, and then a further six when Villa retook the lead.

Martin Dubravka had not had a save to make on his debut before picking the ball out of his net. With United appealing ineffectually for handball, Jacob Ramsey released Ollie Watkins and he dinked a shot over the on-loan Newcastle goalkeeper.

It was the first time United had conceded in six games at Old Trafford but their riposte was immediate. United’s squad contains one Portuguese who was once a natural right winger, but it is not Fernandes. From his station on the flank, he nevertheless burst on to Victor Lindelof’s long pass and had the selflessness to centre for Martial to tap in. In its own way, it was a landmark occasion for Martial: just a second start for United in 50 weeks and the first time in almost a year he had lasted more than the opening half-hour.

Yet Villa regained their advantage with a rare goal by a Portuguese at Old Trafford that United could not enjoy. Diogo Dalot provided the unwitting finish, volleying in when the former United captain Ashley Young crossed and Leon Bailey headed the ball across the six-yard box. Perhaps there was some alchemy from Emery, who had only brought Bailey on three minutes earlier, though haplessness felt a greater factor.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

But right-backs showed an unfortunate capacity to inadvertently help their opponents. Young’s eventful return to Old Trafford continued with a fine sliding tackle that nevertheless diverted the ball to Rashford. He hurdled an ungainly attempt at a challenge by Tyrone Mings and slotted in his shot.

Increasingly rampant, United surged ahead. Their third stemmed from a poor kick from Villa keeper Robin Olsen. Garnacho picked out Fernandes and while his shot took a sizeable deflection off Mings on its way in, the goal had been coming. The same may be said for McTominay’s fourth, with Garnacho’s cross earning the teenager a second assist and United a place in the last 16.