Manchester United stretched their unbeaten run to 17 games — and climbed to within a single point of Leicester City in 4th place in the Premier League — thanks to a 3-0 win away at Aston Villa. First half goals from Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood, followed by a second half strike from Paul Pogba, gave the Reds all 3 points.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to wait half a season for Bruno Fernandes, and he had to wait even longer to get Paul Pogba fully recovered from injury. He had to wait for Mason Greenwood to fill out and make The Leap, too. Time, coaching, luck — all these factors played a part in Solskjaer finding his best team. But now that he’s found it, what a team it is.
United started out somewhat tamely — in the first quarter of an hour, it was the home side who had the more promising attacks. When rumored United target Jack Grealish sliced a side-footed volley high and wide in the 18th minute, it was hardly against the run of play. Villa were clearly focused on cutting off the supply line to Pogba and Fernandes, but that was no excuse for United’s lethargic play.
Some understandable complacency may have set in. United entered this match as the form team in the league, while Villa were all but relegated, and without even the boost of their home crowd to spur them on. United were lucky enough to get another warning, however. Pogba was too casual in possession in midfield, and Trezeguet nipped in to steal the ball. Fortunately for the Reds, the attacker could only flash his shot inches wide.
Between that near miss, and whatever Solskjaer got across to his team during the first water break, United sharpened up. A quick passing move saw the ball find Bruno Fernandes on the edge of the box, and his clever pirouette drew a foul from Ezri Konsa. It looked a soft one on replay, but referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot.
And as we know by now — Bruno Fernandes does not miss from there. United had their lead, after half an hour.
Of United’s front three, Mason Greenwood looked the most threatening. A dazzling run and left-footed shot drew a sharp save from Pepe Reina. It was a sign of things to come.
As Pogba and Fernandes grew into the game, United were now playing with more purpose. Bruno should have doubled the lead with a free header from a Luke Shaw cross, but he inexplicably headed wide. The Reds were putting together some slick passing moves, but couldn’t find the cutting edge. That is, until the sharpest of cutting edges decided to put his stamp on proceedings.
Anthony Martial won the ball back near the center circle with a tackle (!), and started United on the attack. United’s no. 9 exchanged passes with Greenwood before laying the ball off to his 18-year-old teammate at the edge of the box. From there, Greenwood took one touch, put the ball on his weaker (?) right foot, and blasted it into the back of the net.
United entered the halftime break two goals to the good.
Within minutes of the restart, the visitors should have scored again. Marcus Rashford sent his defender sliding with a bit of skill, and his cross was right on the head of a diving Aaron Wan-Bissaka. But AWB showed why he’s never scored a senior goal by putting his header wide. United learned from the lethargy of their first half start, and started the second with their foot on the gas.
Solskjaer’s men stretched their lead to three thanks to their midfield maestros. Bruno Fernandes played a low corner to the edge of the box and found Pogba. United’s French talisman curled a low shot around Grealish and into the back of the net to give Reina no chance.
With the result secure, Solskjaer rang the changes. Fred and Scott McTominay came on for Nemanja Matić and Bruno Fernandes, resulting in a midfield reshuffle, and Brandon Williams gave Wan-Bissaka a breather at right-back. About 10 minutes later, Anthony Martial — who probably fancied himself to get amongst the goals eventually — made way for Odion Ighalo, and Dan James replaced Greenwood.
Pogba’s late driving run put Rashford through, but the forward’s shot couldn’t beat Reina. A couple of more half chances followed, but the visitors were happy to see out the game. With four matches left in the league season, United’s top four destiny is fully in their hands.