Super-sub Coutinho ends Villa revival to frustrate Man Utd

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Steven Gerrard hailed Philippe Coutinho’s dream debut for Aston Villa as the Brazilian star’s late equalizer capped a thrilling two-goal fightback against Manchester United in Saturday’s 2-2 draw.

Four years after last playing in the Premier League with Liverpool, Coutinho had an instant impact on his return to England after his loan spell from Barcelona this week.

Coutinho came off the bench midway through the second half with Villa trailing 2-0 after Bruno Fernandes’ brace for United.

The 29-year-old provided the assist for Jacob Ramsey to give Villa hope 13 minutes from time.

Coutinho then converted Ramsey’s cross five minutes later to ensure Gerrard’s side made amends for their FA Cup third round exit at United on Monday.

Coutinho had a disappointing time at Barcelona but Gerrard is confident he can bring the striker back to his best after playing with him at Liverpool.

“It was a good start. We brought a quality footballer to the club. We need to upgrade him in terms of match accuracy,” Gerrard said.

“We certainly deserved to be trailing at the break. I had to speak some truths at home and the reaction was fantastic.

“We conceded against the run of play but we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves, we continued to show character and believe.

“The substitutions really added something to the game. The two goals we scored were fantastic.”

United have now gone two league games without a win after losing to Wolves in their previous top game.

With United languishing in seventh place, there will be further questions about caretaker boss Ralf Rangnick.

Rangnick had previously endured reports that United players were unimpressed with his coaching methods and backroom staff.

Fernandes owed his first goal to a screamer from Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who let his free kick spill into the net.

The Portuguese playmaker’s second goal was the kind of eye-catching finish that made his name when he arrived at United from Sporting Lisbon in January 2020.

But United couldn’t keep their lead in another blow to their bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top four finish.

“It’s hard to accept this result after leading 2-0 and in several periods of the game I think it was the best performance since I arrived,” said Rangnick.

“In the first half hour we completely dominated and controlled the game on the ball. But again, when you are 2-0 down and drop two precious points, it almost feels like a loss.”

– United in disarray –

Cristiano Ronaldo was absent from United’s squad after the Portuguese star was unable to train on Friday due to a hip flexor injury which also forced him to miss the FA Cup tie Monday.

United got off to a perfect start thanks to Martinez’s sixth-minute blunder.

Fernandes’ 25-yard free-kick left Martinez red-faced as the Villa keeper put both hands on the ball, only to drop it between his legs and spin down the line.

Lucas Digne made his Villa debut after signing from Everton this week and the France left-back was denied a dream start when David De Gea fended off his grating strike.

United doubled their lead in the 67th minute when Fred grabbed Morgan Sanson’s wayward pass and fed Fernandes, who launched a ferocious finish into the roof of the net from 12 yards out.

But Coutinho came off the bench moments later to completely change the tone of the game.

It was Coutinho whose incisive pass found Ramsey in the United area, giving the midfielder the chance to slip past De Gea from close range in the 77th minute.

With Villa Park rocking and United suddenly in disarray, Coutinho raised the roof five minutes later.

Ramsey returned the favor with a perfectly weighted cross that eluded the United defense and gave Coutinho a simple tap-in at the far post.

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