Philippe Coutinho inspires Aston Villa fightback against Manchester United | Premier League

Aston Villa’s pulsating comeback was decorated by Philippe Coutinho’s first Premier League goal – the 82nd-minute equaliser – since Boxing Day 2017. Manchester United should be furious at how they allowed the strike five minutes after Jacob Ramsey’s finish gave Steven Gerrard’s team a lifeline, Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelöf and Raphaël Varane all caught ball-watching.

Bruno Fernandes had earlier delighted United’s travelling support with two goals that seemed to point to an invaluable victory, the captain giving his best display of the campaign. Yet this fact underlines how off-colour Fernandes has been, like too many other United players.

The visitors did not lose but this was a concerning surrender from Ralf Rangnick’s still-too-shaky side. The German’s bid to build something in his interim tenure was hardly aided by Anthony Martial’s absence, with the interim manager naming only eight substitutes, and claiming after the game that the Frenchman did not want to be included.

“When you are 2-0 up and throw away two valuable points, it almost feels like a defeat, but we have to look ahead and take the best out of it,” Rangnick said. “In spells, it was a very good performance.”

Gerrard was understandably delighted by the debut as a substitute of his former Liverpool teammate. “Phil gave me exactly what I wanted from the bench. It is only a matter of time before he is better,” said the manager. “There is still room for him to get fitter and stronger.”

United went ahead in the sixth minute when Alex Telles touched a free-kick on the left to Fernandes who, striding forward, blazed a shot at Emiliano Martínez. The goalkeeper fumbled badly and in rolled the opener.

With Cristiano Ronaldo out again due to a hip flexor problem, and Marcus Rashford having a dead leg, Rangnick turned to Anthony Elanga, rather than Jadon Sancho in what was a 4-2-3-1, not the usual 4-2-2-2.

Philippe Coutinho shoots past David de Gea to secure Aston Villa a point
Philippe Coutinho shoots past David de Gea to secure Aston Villa a point. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images

Gerrard, who started his new signing Lucas Digne, endured a frustrating first half, with United being far better than in Monday’s FA Cup encounter when Villa were unlucky to be eliminated. It took 31 minutes for Ollie Watkins, finally, to test David de Gea and United’s upturn could be traced to Fernandes being far more influential than in recent matches.

A theory runs that he is stifled by Ronaldo, though they occupy different spaces and roles. The way he dropped deep to find Dalot’s run along the right showed him in a whirring, effervescent mode, the quality here opposite to that exhibited moments later by Fred when he belted a pass into touch.

Villa did threaten when Digne’s corner was thudded goalward by Emiliano Buendía’s head and De Gea’s reflexes protected United’s lead. Then the Spaniard’s knees saved Digne’s point-blank attempt.

The bright Elanga had Martínez beating a shot out early in the second half and while United maybe lacked fluidity they were half a yard faster and closer to their opponents than recently. Nonetheless De Gea had to save low to his right from Ramsey then Matty Cash failed to make the most of a ball swung over by Digne.

The contest was invigorating entertainment in a crackling atmosphere. United were hemmed in by the Villa surge but then Elanga shot wide and Mason Greenwood rolled the ball marginally past the right post, leaving Rangnick with his head in his hands. The German was far happier when, after Morgan Sanson’s mistake, Fred’s simple touch allowed Fernandes to smash the ball home.

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Then, with 22 minutes left, on came Coutinho. First he created Ramsey’s strike, the Brazilian’s pass pin-balling off Fred. Next, Villa Park was lit up by the little magician, whose equaliser benefited from the comedy of United defensive errors. Donny van de Beek might have grabbed glory with a late chance but failed.

Gerrard said: “When we went two down in the second half we had a choice whether to feel sorry for ourselves and go under or carry on believing.”

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