Champions League qualification looks ever more likely for Louis van Gaal's Manchester United, who saw off Aston Villa 3-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday. It was the Reds' fifth straight Premier League win, and though it wasn't quite as emphatic as their last couple, it was nevertheless deserved. United move provisionally above City and into third place.
United were dominant from the first whistle, though were initially frustrated by Villa's compact defending. Whether it was thanks to Ciaran Clark tugging Wayne Rooney down in the box after five minutes, or Brad Guzan palming Marcos Rojo's long range drive over the crossbar after 24, the visitors hung onto their clean sheet. It wasn't that United played badly, but lacked the end product to turn their dominance into a scoreboard advantage.
That was until the final couple of minutes of the half, when finally the Reds found a crucial opening. Ander Herrera took receipt of Daley Blind's low pass in the penalty area, and had enough space to drill it inside Guzan's far post to break the deadlock.
Despite going behind, Villa retained their defence first approach into the second half. It didn't stop United going close within minutes of the restart through an Ashley Young snapshot, but the tempo of the Reds' passing began to drop as the clock ticked on. Ball retention became the order of the day as the visitors sank ever deeper towards their own goal.
With just over 10 minutes left, the long-awaited second finally arrived. A cross from substitute Ángel Di María was brought down and smashed home in spectacular fashion by Wayne Rooney, who maintained his impressive record of marking rather underwhelming performances with singular moments of individual brilliance.
Alas, United barely had time to relax at 2-0, as within moments, Villa had halved the deficit. A low corner was stroked into the back of the net by Christian Benteke, whose low shot squirmed under David De Gea. It wasn't a moment the Spaniard will want to remember, though if we're being kind, it was only the second save he had to make in the entire match. He wasn't exactly warmed up.
It made the game's dying minutes a little more edge-of-the-seat than they should have been, but Herrera eventually sealed all three points with a second goal in stoppage time. A quick counter-attack culminated in a wonderful placed finish from the edge of the penalty area, as United wrapped up the points in style.