Aston Villa’s Emery era off and running with victory over Manchester United

If this was Aston Villa after three training sessions with Unai Emery, then supporters could be forgiven for departing with a giddy excitement about what the next few years might bring. Emery applauded all four sides of this ground after being welcomed over the speakers before kick-off and offered fans a thumbs-up at full time as he shuffled down the touchline after a comprehensive destruction of Manchester United, who succumbed to a second league defeat since August.

If anything summed up the shift in mood it was the midfielder Douglas Luiz joining in with Villa’s take on Hi Ho Silver Lining as he headed down the tunnel. His compatriot, Philippe Coutinho, will not be feeling so jovial, with the Brazilian, who was absent from the squad here, almost certain to miss the World Cup with a quad muscle injury.

Emery has talked about his desire to win a trophy and restore Villa to European competition as his key aims and this illuminating evisceration of United ensured a sensational start to life at Villa Park. They raced into a two-goal lead inside 11 minutes courtesy of Leon Bailey and Lucas Digne before Jacob Ramsey completed the scoring four minutes into the second half, quickly deflating Erik ten Hag’s hopes of a United comeback after Luke Shaw’s shot took a hugely fortuitous deflection off Ramsey approaching the break. “I’m disappointed but I know the process does not only go up,” Ten Hag said. “Setbacks will come, we have to deal with them. We have to be ready for every game.”

By the end the Villa fans in the Holte End were asking Emery to give them a wave – he was only too happy to oblige – and Cristiano Ronaldo, wearing the captain’s armband, was throwing his hands around in frustration. Ronaldo’s most memorable contribution was a second-half contretemps with Tyrone Mings, which led to the video assistant referee clearing the striker of violent conduct. The way Ten Hag, whose triple substitution a few minutes later failed to inspire a comeback, explained his decision to hand Ronaldo the captaincy was hardly a glowing endorsement. He cited how Harry Maguire was on the bench, Bruno Fernandes suspended, David de Gea too far away to influence things and that Casemiro’s English is not yet up to scratch for the role. “Then you come to Cristiano,” Ten Hag said.

Emery’s assessment upon taking charge was of an underperforming squad short of confidence but the manner in which Villa shifted the ball hardly married with a team lacking belief. How Villa supporters enjoyed watching their team express themselves as they beat United here in the league for the first time since 1995. It was an afternoon that brought great pleasure, from the purposeful running of Ollie Watkins and intricate passing to the verve of the fleet-footed Bailey and the sight of the Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez performing his best seal impression as he did a version of keepie-uppies, twice heading the ball on the edge of his box midway through the first half.

Villa were rampant after Bailey opened the scoring, United rattled. Luke Shaw’s crude challenge on Ramsey just as the Villa academy graduate was set to hurtle towards the United box earned Villa a free-kick 22 yards from goal. Martínez, again Villa captain, legged it into the United half to choreograph the set piece, yelling instructions to his teammates. The one man he didn’t need to tell what to do was Digne, who put a brilliant, bending left-foot shot inside De Gea’s left post. With 16 minutes on the clock, Matty Cash played in Bailey and the Jamaica winger cut the ball back for Emiliano Buendía, who powered a shot just wide. Emery hopped on the touchline as Villa sniffed a third.

United roused before the break, with Martínez making two smart saves in quick succession, first to deny Alejandro Garnacho a goal on his first Premier League start with a strong left-hand stop and then Ronaldo with his right boot. But United were fortunate to strike before the interval when Shaw’s shot from the edge of the box, more in anger than anything, took a wicked deflection off the back of Ramsey, stumping Martínez as it looped into the far corner.

Villa began the second half as they did the first and De Gea was soon fishing the ball out of his net once more. Buendía seized Lisandro Martínez’s headed clearance on halfway and freed Watkins down the left. Watkins cut the ball back for an unmarked Ramsey, who swept the ball into the top corner. “I was dreaming of this,” Emery said. “It was a special day. But we have only made the first step. We were speaking about the gameplan and I think the players did it perfectly.” The bad news for United is that it is Villa again up next, in the Carabao Cup on Thursday.