Manchester United 1-0 Aston Villa: Fernandes ends goal drought to all but secure top-four finish
Bruno Fernandes scored his first Premier League goal in nearly three months as Manchester United beat Aston Villa 1-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday to take another big step towards securing a top-four finish.
United threw away a two-goal lead in the midweek draw with Spurs that upset their momentum a little, but returned to winning ways against a Villa side who were threatening to enter top-four contention.
One of the Premier League's form teams since Unai Emery's October appointment, Villa went close to an opener first, though United were good value for the lead when Fernandes punished questionable goalkeeping from Emiliano Martinez.
Despite putting Villa under intense pressure for much of the second half, additional goals were not forthcoming for United, who were ultimately indebted to Victor Lindelof's late goal-line clearance as they held on.
United were also fortunate not to concede in the 19th minute when Diogo Dalot nudged Emiliano Buendia's pass into Alex Moreno's path, the Spaniard's powerful drive crucially blocked by David de Gea.
They nearly capitalised on the let-off nine minutes later, Jadon Sancho teeing up Casemiro to hit the crossbar from 16 yards.
But the breakthrough did arrive just before half-time, Fernandes squeezing in from a tight angle when Martinez could only parry Marcus Rashford's initial effort.
While United continued to dominate after half-time, their final pass was generally dreadful, with Sancho and Christian Eriksen making particularly poor decisions at crucial moments in the attacking third.
Villa almost took full advantage, but Lindelof managed to head Douglas Luiz's shot clear from under the bar, with United surviving late pressure.
What does it mean? Red Devils nearly there
Obviously United would have been keen to see Newcastle United drop points to Southampton and replace them in third, but the main objective here was to just get the win that makes top-four confirmation all but theirs.
United are now nine points clear of Tottenham, who will have played two games more after their clash with Liverpool later on Sunday, while Villa probably needed to win at Old Trafford to have any hope of a late surge for fourth.
It was not vintage by any stretch of the imagination as United were bizarrely poor with their final pass and decision-making in attack, but they bucked a recent trend of throwing away leads. Any progress is progress.
Fernandes ends the drought
United's captain had scored in other competitions since, but before Sunday his last Premier League goal was on February 4.
He ended that barren spell here with a goal that encapsulated the energy and urgency he provides United off the ball.
Lindelof and Shaw impress again
Losing Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez to injuries was a massive blow for United, but since then, Lindelof and Luke Shaw have – generally – performed admirably at centre-back in their stead.
Shaw showcased his excellent anticipation skills with more interceptions (three) than anyone else on the pitch, while Lindelof's four clearances – including that vital one on the goal-line – was a high in the United team.
Key Opta facts
- Only Manchester City (14 wins, 43 points) have more home wins and home points in the Premier League this season than Manchester United (12 wins, 39 points).
- Aston Villa failed to score for the first time in their 21 Premier League games under Emery, ending the competition record for longest consecutive scoring start by a club under a manager/head coach.
- United remain unbeaten in 26 home games in all competitions (W22 D4) since losing 1-0 to Real Sociedad in September in the Europa League.
- Ten Hag's men have kept a clean sheet in 10 of their last 13 Premier League games at Old Trafford, including each of their last five.
- A run of 10 unbeaten Premier League games (W8 D2) for Villa came to an end, and was only their second defeat in 10 away fixtures in the league under Emery (W6 D2).
- Fernandes has both scored (7) and been directly involved in (9 – 7 goals, 2 assists) more goals against Villa in all competitions than any other opponent in his United career.
United are away to Brighton and Hove Albion on Thursday; Villa face local rivals Wolves at Molineux two days later.