Bruno Fernandes’ first half strike was enough to give Manchester United a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon, strengthening their grip on a top four finish in the Premier League table as the crunch part of the season commences.
The talking point before the game revolved around the ever-vocal United fans marching along Warwick Road and down Sir Matt Busby Way. A strong message of “Full Sale Only”- depicted on a large banner- was sent to the Glazer family in wake of rumours that Sir Jim Ratcliffe would be happy to keep the current ownership on the cards should he purchase the club, but a victory was another necessity in the eyes of Reds fans.
A victory was delivered, too. Fernandes picked up the scraps of Emiliano Martinez’s save from Marcus Rashford’s tame effort to bundle home what would prove to be the winning goal in the 38th minute of the match.
It was far from straightforward for Erik ten Hag’s men, however, with the home side lacking that cutting edge inside the first half when they should have arguably had a greater lead.
Marcel Sabitzer fired a lopping volley over the crossbar when he was played in on a tight angle on the left-hand side of the box, with Rashford having been denied by Martinez from a similar spot not long before that. Casemiro struck the crossbar after duping the goalkeeper with a curling effort as Unai Emery’s side hung on.
The second forty-five presented United with fewer opportunities than the first, yet the chances were definitely there to put the game to bed; Rashford failed to latch onto a cross after an agonizing deflection, and Casemiro whistled one wide of the post with a left-footed strike after being teed up by Tyrell Malacia.
The men in claret and blue put three past their opponents in Emery’s first game in charge of the club back in October and had scored in every single game since then under the management of the Spaniard, but there was just no way they could get the ball in the back of the net on Sunday, opitimised by a heroic header off the line from Victor Lindelof with not long left to deny Douglas Luiz and his side an equaliser.
The game ended 1-0 after a promising late free-kick for Villa went to nothing as a sigh of relief let out around Old Trafford.
Final Score: Manchester United 1-0 Aston Villa (Fernandes 38’)
Man of the match
In a game that lacked sparkle in the attack, many fans have rightfully homed in on another quality performance from ‘The Iceman’ Victor Lindelof.
Ever since the Swede stepped into the side after injuries to Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane, he has shown some of his very best qualities in a red shirt. The well-taken penalty in the FA Cup semi-final to send his side through will be remembered in the long-term, but his defensive performances in the short-term are earning righteous approval from the fans.
His combativeness in aerial duels, tenacity in tackling on the ground, and his ability to step into the midfield after playing the ball out to draw his side further up the pitch was enough to earn the 28-year-old the Man of the Match award, not to mention the clearance off the line that assured United of the three points.
It was another impressive showing from a man who cannot do much wrong at the moment.
The bigger picture
Three points, job done will be the feeling amongst the manager, players and fans alike as the week draws to a close. It was not the most appealing of performances on the eye, but context is a large factor in this victory.
After an overseas trip to Seville, an away trip to Wembley, followed by another trip to London to face Tottenham in United’s last three games, the players are sure to be feeling the physical strain. Ten Hag has been criticised for his substitutions of late, but he cannot let players run around on an empty tank, and he would have taken a 1-0 win all day long before kickoff, you would think.
Another key thing to consider is the team who United beat. Villa had won eight and drawn two of their last ten games, having scored in every game since the new manager arrived in October. To defeat the East Midlands outfit and earn a clean sheet is a massive credit to Ten Hag and the players.
It looks- barring a disaster- that top four is nailed on now for the club and that Champions League football will soon be back at Old Trafford. With six league games left of the season, fans can only hope that the team keep on winning and that key players return from injury as the FA Cup final against Manchester City looms ever nearer.
What is next?
Next up for Ten Hag and United is Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Thursday 4th May in the Premier League. That one kicks off at 20:00 (BST).
After that, United head to the London Stadium to take on West Ham United in the Premier League on Sunday 7th May, kicking off at 19:00 (BST),