Forgotten man delivers for Van Gaal as United grind out another victory
Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 1
Friday night delights? Not quite for Manchester United. But they are top of the Premier League - remarkably, for the first time since David Moyes's first game in charge in August 2013 - they have won both their opening games, kept two clean sheets. And scored just two goals, although both came off an opponent.
One-nil to United is not a familiar chant but Louis van Gaal is fashioning a more combative team for this campaign. It is not pretty - not yet anyway - but it has proved pretty effective so far. He has more power if not more firepower.
Adding an away victory at Aston Villa to a home win against Tottenham represents a strong start to the season no matter how functional the performances have been.
They will gain approval for Van Gaal who, in turn, will be satisfied that the man he brought in from the cold, Adnan Januzaj, bagged the deflected goal at Villa Park. For Villa, having not beaten United in this fixture since 1995, this was a familiar result with unfamiliar faces.
Villa manager Tim Sherwood described it as "Friday nights under the lights" but those caught in the infernal M6 motorway traffic might have thought that, although there was rhyme, there was little reason to the timing of the match.
This was a one-off, because of policing issues on Saturday, but from next season Friday night matches will be factored in for good.
It had a different feel to usual fixtures, partly because both sides were so different, with the churn of players at United almost as extensive as at Villa.
No one quite knew what to expect and no one really expected Van Gaal to reintroduce Januzaj. The Belgian made his first start for six months having previously been treated lukewarmly by the manager.
The 20-year-old was reassured this week that he had a future at United and there was tangible proof of that as he was elected to play the No 10 role - his favoured position - as Van Gaal rejigged again.
The selection paid dividend quickly. Januzaj's goal came midway through the first half and was smartly constructed down the United left with Memphis Depay, Luke Shaw and Juan Mata involved, before the Spaniard slid the ball cleverly through to pick out Januzaj's darting run into the penalty area.
Idrissa Gueye, one of four new signings in the starting line-up failed to track, and Januzaj broke through. He then turned back, leaving Micah Richards on the turf, and stroked a shot goalwards from a tight angle.
Brad Guzan might have covered but it deflected off Ciaran Clark and into the net.
Remarkably it was Januzaj's first league goal since April 2014 and his first under Van Gaal.
The match was frenetic. Soon after Januzaj tangled with Jordan Veretout and received a boot in the stomach. Richards then claimed that Matteo Darmian had pulled him back as he strained to reach a corner. The Italian defender certainly had his arms around the Villa captain's neck before his header sailed wide.
What did Villa have? Plenty of intent and plenty of youth and a lot more pace than last season - especially down the left with full-back Jordan Amavi - but they were also vulnerable. United? Despite the goal, the disconnect between Wayne Rooney and those behind him continued, while Van Gaal's tactics looked merely functional. But United were ahead.
Sherwood sent on Rudi Gestede, another recent recruit and the goalscorer in last weekend's victory against Bournemouth, to warm up. As he did so, a chance fell to Jordan Ayew only for the striker to slice high over the crossbar from the edge of the area.
United had not only a lead to protect but also an impressive statistic - they had lost only one league match in the last 80 in which they led at half-time.
Certainly the acquisition of Morgan Schneiderlin gave them a bit more aggression and mobility in midfield and the hope that record would be extended.
Villa could find hope down the flanks, especially with Amavi. He fired over one low, dangerous cross before Darmian bundled him over after he had outstripped the United right-back.
The free-kick was wasted. A corner was given, with Gabriel Agbonlahor meeting the delivery, only for Sergio Romero to comfortably pluck his header from under the bar.
Villa were building pressure, with Shaw blocking from Gueye and the wall of noise beginning to rise around the Holte End.
Sensing crosses from those wide areas might expose United, Sherwood tried to seize the momentum and sent on the towering Gestede.
Van Gaal countered with two changes, including replacing Michael Carrick with Bastian Schweinsteiger in what is beginning to look like a regular occurrence.
If Schweinsteiger returns to full fitness - that happening is not a given - it would appear Carrick's place will be under threat.
United needed to regain some control and appeared to do so, with Januzaj off for Ander Herrera, as Van Gaal thickened up his midfield.
There was a succession of corners and free-kicks. Mata intervened with another fine, incisive pass which this time picked out Depay. Clear on goal, his first-time shot arced wide. He should have scored.
Schweinsteiger, although evidently short of fitness, had calmed United and managed to negotiate them over the line. Just as he did last weekend.(©Daily Telegraph, London)