Manchester United edge closer to Champions League return

rooney celebrate
Louis van Gaal has found the best way to keep Manchester United fans happy is to win at home.

Powering past Aston Villa was their 13th victory in 16 Premier League matches at Old Trafford and they have accumulated more points earlier on their own territory, 40, than anyone else.

No wonder after a period of irritation earlier in the season, the Stretford End are cheering regardless of whether United play quickly, slowly, pass back to goalkeeper David de Gea or boot it up to Marouane Fellaini

They remember losing seven home games under David Moyes last season.

Two goals by Ander Herrera and a special one from Wayne Rooney were enough to sweep aside lowly opponents and took United up to third place, a point ahead of neighbours Manchester City who play Crystal Palace on Monday before they are up next at the Theatre of Dreams.

Even more importantly, Van Gaal’s side are now eight points clear of Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool in fifth.

It means his number one priority, restoring Champions League football to Old Trafford, has nearly been achieved. In terms of performance, it was something of the old, something of the new.

United used width as their tradition demands with former Villa winger Ashley Young seeing a lot of the ball on the left. But there was a lot of patience and possession too.

United had 72% of the ball without a lot to show for it until the reward came after 43 minutes. Daley Blind overlapped for the umpteenth time and on this occason his cutback to Herrera was perfect for the Spaniard to drill home.

The second goal didn’t arrive until 11 minutes from the end but was worth the wait. Angel Di Maria, on as a substitute, chipped the ball behind Rooney, but the England striker still found a way to score. He fully extended his left luminous green boot, brought the ball under control with his first touch and then spun 180 degrees to lash home his finish on the half-volley with his right.

On such goals has the Theatre of Dreams acquired its reputation. But surprisingly there was still work to do for United because David de Gea let a Christian Benteke shot squirm through his body almost immediately aftewards.

It was only when Herrera added his second goal that van Gaal’s men were totally safe though anything other than three points would have been a travesty on the balance of play.

‘I wanted to come here and compete, and I thought we did that,’ said Villa boss Tim Sherwood. ‘But United have players who have been round the block, they know when to speed it up and slow it down. The goal just before half-time killed us.’

FA Cup semi-finalists Villa could be in the bottom three when they face QPR at home on Tuesday night in a genuine relegation six-pointer. But they will be without a string of injured players including Alan Hutton. taken off at half-time yesterday with an ankle injury, Scott Sinclair, Kieran Westwood and Kieran Richardson.

‘I’ve never known anything like it. Ridiculous,’ said Sherwood.

Van Gaal was simply relieved to get United’s first game after the international break out the way.

‘I was afraid before this match because we were playing against a very defensive organisaton. That is not easy to create chances and score goals,’ he said.

On two-goal Herrera, he added: ‘He has always been very good technically but sometimes was not composed at the right moment. But he is developing. He has scored seven goals now.’