United secured another three points and a further step towards Champions League qualification thanks to a brace from Ander Herrera and a superb finish from Wayne Rooney. The Reds’ play perhaps lacked the fluency of late but, against a stubborn and well-organised Villa, this was a very different contest from the more open games against Spurs and Liverpool and ultimately they ran out deserved winners.
Although United dominated the play, they were made to work hard for an opening goal that eventually came just before half-time. Before that, the best United’s superiority had produced was a long-range effort from Rojo that was superbly saved by Guzan in the Villa goal. Just as it appeared the sides were set to go in level, however, a cut back from Blind found Herrera, whose left-footed shot was placed well beyond the Villa keeper.
A one goal lead is never secure, of course, and Villa spurned a chance to draw level early in the second half when Benteke misfired when he appeared certain to score. Even so, United sometimes looked nervy with their narrow lead and, with the pace of their game slowing considerably in the second half, struggled to carve an opportunity to extend their lead. The best was a header from Fellaini that Guzan managed to palm over the bar.
A new injection of pace came into United’s play when Di Maria replaced Young with twenty minutes remaining and the Argentinian, looking much sharper than of late, played a significant part in the Reds doubling their lead. His cross found Rooney in the area and the captain’s control and turn was perfect as his shot found the top corner.
If that appeared to signal a comfortable end to the game, Old Trafford was to be disappointed as, within a minute, Villa had pulled a goal back when a corner found Benteke in the box and the Belgian somehow managed to squeeze his shot under De Gea. His side had, however, produced very little of note during the game and never came close to building on this lifeline.
Instead, it was United who completed the afternoon’s scoring when Herrera latched onto a cross from Mata and passed the ball calmly past Guzan to cap a fine individual performance and secure a win that, with Liverpool losing heavily to Arsenal earlier in the day, put his side eight points clear of their nearest rivals for a Champions League place and, temporarily at least, above city and into third place.