The first sunny spring afternoon of the season at Old Trafford has become traditionally associated with squeaky bum time and the serious matter of a title push. That our opponents were the team against whom we clinched our 20th title last season only made the contrast with this limp campaign more apparent. Instead of victory flags waving out of parked cars across Trafford and Salford, we got the idiotic gesture of a plane trailing an anti-Moyes banner flying over the stadium. It was rightly booed by the bulk of the home support and its sentiments over-ridden by one of the more convincing home displays of the season.
Not that it wasn’t without its twitches. Villa took the lead from Westwood’s free kick, gained after sloppy midfield play from United had led to a foul just outside the area and the second half stroll might have been less comfortable had Benteke not miskicked in the six-yard box just after half-time. These weren’t the only nervy moments defensively, but the Reds, once they’d levelled the scores when Rooney deftly nodded home Kagawa’s cross, looked composed and often stylish going forward and were unusually clinical in their finishing.
Rooney doubled United’s lead from the penalty spot after Mata had been brought down by Bacuna, who’d been wrong-footed by the Spaniard’s drag-back. Mata, playing in his preferred role behind the main striker, had an excellent game, he and Rooney interchanging in a manner that was at times reminiscent of the brief but brilliant Cantona-Hughes partnership of old. He added the third himself after being set up by Fellaini in the box and his every touch screamed that he has to be deployed in this position in the future, whatever implications that might have for Van Persie’s long-term position.
The fourth goal was gorgeous in its simplicity. Januzaj, having come on as a late substitute, caused no end of problems for the Villa defence and it was his cross that his fellow substitute Chicharito got on the end of to make it four in stoppage time.
It wasn’t a performance that will remove all question marks against David Moyes’ credentials – Villa created chances of their own against a make-shift United defence, Carrick having been forced into central defensive duties following Rafael’s departure at half-time – but it was great to see a United side playing with this kind of confidence and fluency at home again this season, unlikely though it is that we’ll find ourselves with anything like this kind of freedom to do so on Tuesday night.