MANCHESTER UNITED 3, ASTON VILLA 1
Ander Herrera is helping spearhead Manchester United’s drive for a Champion League place.
The Spanish midfielder, who only recently has won back a first-team place, scored twice as the Reds beat Aston Villa and strengthen their hold on third place.
And Herrera appears to be relishing playing alongside Michael Carrick who himself is also enjoying a rich vein of form.
Captain Wayne Rooney also scored a goal-of-the-month contender as United won at a relative canter against struggling Villa.
United enjoyed a whopping 75-per-cent of possession and they ought to have sealed victory long before Herrera scored his second in stoppage time.
United manager Louis van Gaal was content with the victory admitting he had been worried before the game because of the disruption caused by the international break and also the fact they were up against a defensive Villa side.
He said: “It is not easy and you have to focus and concentrate much more against a defensive organisation.
“We created chance and scored goals and at the end it was 3-1 and I am pleased with the result. The performance could have been better.”
Van Gaal added next week United will be playing for a place higher in the table at home to Manchester City believing it will be a far different spectacle to Villa.
He said: “Against Manchester City, we will not be against such a defensive organisation. It should be more like Tottenham and Liverpool when we saw a fantastic match.
“Of course the result is the most important thing, but maybe I will be happy to play ugly and win. That’s the most important thing.”
Van Gaal also praised Herrera saying it is a fantastic achievement to score seven goals in his first full season given he has not been a regular.
And there were words of support for Angel Di Maria who came off the bench to provide a 10th assist of the season for Rooney’s goal adding his turn will come when the time is right.
Chris Smalling hadn’t recovered from illness so Marcos Rojo deputised in defence, the one change from the side which won at Liverpool.
Villa were without United loanee Tom Cleverley and Scott Sinclair while Leandro Bacuna was relegated to the bench.
United had an early shout for a penalty rejected when Rooney went down in the box after a challenge from Ciaran Clark. Replays showed Rooney was looking for a spot kick and referee Roger East made the correct call.
Ashley Young then set up Juan Mata whose goalbound shot was blocked by Clark as United continued their bright start.
Rojo’s 30-yard drive mid-half brought a fine fingertip save from Brad Guzan to tip the ball over the crossbar.
The breakthrough finally came in the 43rd minute through Herrera, the back-in-favour midfield player.
Daley Blind cut the ball back to the Spaniard who, from the left of the box, fired low into the far corner of the net for his sixth goal of the season.
And United might have had a second goal in stoppage time when Rooney’s goalbound shot was blocked by Clark.
Villa almost conjured an equaliser early in the second period when Christian Benteke shot over when well placed 10 yards out from an Andreas Weimann cut back.
United needed a second goal and Ashley Young curled an effort just wide before Marouane Fellaini’s header from a Valencia cross was superbly saved by Guzan and Rooney fired not far wide.
They made their first change with 20 minutes left when Young was replaced by Angel Di Maria and he was soon followed by Radamel Falcao who came on for Fellaini.
The second goal came with 11 minutes remaining when Rooney scored a stunner from a cross by substitute Di Maria. He took a touch, turned and half volleyed a shot into the top corner of the net from 14 yards.
It was Rooney’s 13th Premier League goal against Villa and his ninth in the last seven league games against them at Old Trafford.
If United thought the game was won, they were mistaken as Villa halved the deficit moments later when Benteke fired a low shot from a Joe Cole corner under the body of keeper David De Gea who will be disappointed at the way in which the ball crept under his body.
United added a third goal in stoppage time when Rooney and Juan Mata linked to set up Herrera who side footed a shot low past Guzan for his seventh of the campaign.