Manchester United’s Champions League hopes received a huge boost on Sunday as they earned a hard-fought 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
Erik ten Hag’s side knew going into game that a win would reduced the gap to the Champions League places to six points and, while the visitors were second best for long spells at Villa Park, Scott McTominay’s late header proved the difference between the teams.
After a slow start, United took the ascendancy from the 10th minute, with Harry Maguire heading over from a corner and Rasmus Hojlund's effort from inside the box blocked by a great sliding tackle from Diego Carlos. Villa didn’t learn their lessons though, with Maguire winning the first header from a Bruno Fernandes corner in the 17th minute, and Hojlund was perfectly placed to tap it beyond Emilian Martinez to open the scoring.
Villa responded well with Leon Bailey curling wide, before Andre Onana made good saves to keep out a John McGinn piledriver and Ollie Watkins’ close-range effort.
Villa felt aggrieved at the one-goal deficit at half-time, with Unai Emery’s side having more shots and possession, as again United allowed the opposition to determine the flow of the game. There was still a threat on the break though, as Marcus Rashford showed within a minute of the restart when he flew down the line but could only manage a tame shot at goal that Martinez calmly collected.
It was Villa who were still in control, even if the final pass or shot was letting them down. Watkins fired straight at Onana from just a few yards out following Matty Cash’s cross, while Bailey’s pass ran just inches beyond Ramsey preventing an almost certain goal for the hosts.
Ten Hag’s flawed tactical approach has at times this season drawn comparisons with Emery’s hugely successful model, and this was another game where the Dutchman’s set up raised questions as Villa dictated the tempo. It was no surprise when the goal finally came, as Bailey’s cross was turned home by Douglas Luiz in the 67th minute.
But McTominay has developed a habit of producing game-changing moments off the bench this season and 11 days after netting after his introduction at Molineux , the Scotland international again scored a vital header in the West Midlands. In 86th minute, the midfielder was picked out by Diogo Dalot’s excellent cross into the back post and he rose above Cash to power his header into the goal.
That took the wind out of Villa's sails, as the claret and blues failed to muster any real response after the setback, although Watkins and Cash forced further saves from Onana. But United comfortably held on to earn a crucial three points as they hunt down the top four. Here's how we rated the players...