Tuesday 20 March 2018

Settled Man United on a high after win over Villa


Ander Herrera celebrates with teammate Juan Mata after scoring Manchester United's third goal
Ander Herrera celebrates with teammate Juan Mata after scoring Manchester United's third goal
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney battles for the ball with Jores Okore of Aston Villa
Aston Villa's Fabian Delph vies for the ball with Manchester United's midfielder Juan Mata
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney scores their second goal against Aston Villa
Christian Benteke scores his Aston Villa's against Manchester United

PAUL WILSON at Old Trafford

Confidence is a wonderful thing and it is coursing through Manchester United after the three solid results in March that removed doubts about their ability to rejoin the Champions League elite.

This fifth league win in a row took them above Manchester City in the table for the first time this season, and with Arsenal moving up to second it is Manuel Pellegrini and his players who are under pressure to finish on a high. City, who visit Old Trafford next weekend, could suddenly be looking at finishing third or fourth in what for months seemed a two-horse race.

"Next week we will be playing for a place higher in the table," Louis van Gaal said. "It will be a different type of game, because I don't think City will set out as defensively as Aston Villa, but the most important thing is to win. We played well to win against Tottenham and Liverpool, but against City I don't mind if we play ugly."

With a settled, successful side at last - Chris Smalling was the only absentee from the last starting line-up as he has a virus - the home side tore into their opponents as of old.

With the crowd murmuring appreciation for neat work in defence from the likes of Valencia and Michael Carrick, and breaking into enthusiastic applause when Ashley Young, then Daley Blind, broke forward to test Brad Guzan, all that was missing was a goal.

Marouane Fellaini and Young started the move that broke the deadlock, the latter making smart use of Blind's overlapping run, and when he produced a pull-back rather than a cross Ander Herrera controlled the ball neatly with his right foot before finding Guzan's bottom corner with his left.

Villa needed to find a way of answering back in the second half, if only to show something has changed under Tim Sherwood and that meekly accepting their fate is now a thing of the past.

Instead, it seemed only a matter of time before United increased their lead, and but for Guzan clawing away a close range header from Fellaini they would have done so after an hour. United were working hard to keep Villa pressed back, the visitors were finding it difficult to break out of their own half, and with 20 minutes remaining Van Gaal sent on Angel Di Maria. Then Radamel Falcao. Sherwood was not about to take that lying down so he sent on Joe Cole.

Di Maria provided the necessary inspiration, beating Jores Okore to cross from the left for Wayne Rooney to put United two up with a splendid piece of control and improvisation - though Cole made a difference too. Even though his corner kick 10 minutes from time was woeful, barely deserving to beat the first defender, it nevertheless eluded every United shirt and allowed Christian Benteke to sweep the ball past a startled David de Gea. Startled because up to that point Villa had not registered a single shot on target.

It was too little too late, and Rooney and Juan Mata helped Herrera add a stylish third goal in stoppage time.


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