Manchester United delayed the title celebration in the blue half of the city with a 3-1 win over Aston Villa.
Villa’s dire record against United continues after beating the Red Devils just once this century after a masterly second-half performance turned the game around.
United took the lead in the first half, zero behind, with a defensive error adding to the VIlla goal in a game that United had largely out of control.
But the cream rose in the second half as United quality was too high for Villa.
Here are five things we learned from today’s game.
(Photo by Matthew Peters / Manchester United via Getty Images)
Rashford plays a key role
Ole tinkered with the starting XI today, maintaining his confidence in Paul Pogba in the left attacking midfield role that Rashford had occupied for much of his United career.
The English striker took the center forward role, Cavani started on the bench and Martial was still injured.
Rashford started bright and made some good runs from deep when the mansion’s defensive line was high.
But his lack of experience as an absolute striker showed as he could have scored two goals with a little more Poacher in the first half.
He’s best to come in from the left, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play upstairs with a little more time to practice.
When Edinson Cavani replaced Greenwood in the 65th minute, he rose to the top and Rashford returned to a far-reaching attacking role and immediately looked much more comfortable as he set Cavani for the third goal.
United look like a better attacking team with Pogba in left midfield and with Martial fit again, Rashford may have to get used to playing out of his prime position.
(Photo by Michael Steele / Getty Images)
Mason Greenwood is a match winner
With 32 starts this season, it’s easy to forget that Mason Greenwood is only 19 years old.
He’s just as exciting as Rashford was when he was the same age, and it wasn’t until this season that we saw the world-class quality bolts of lightning that Rashford now has at the age of 23.
We’re still waiting to see what level Greenwood can reach, but today, and for much of this season, he has put Ole forward to be an important part of next season’s plans.
There has been a lot of talk about Jadon Sancho coming from Borussia Dortmund and filling the role Greenwood has played again this season.
However, it remains to be seen what the glasses will do in this summer’s transfer window.
We have been told repeatedly that United is losing money and it would be a natural expectation for owners to tighten their financial belt buckles this year.
If so, Greenwood appears very close to being a reliable right-forward.
The protesting fans are achieving something, however, and the glasses will surely think that a large transfer budget for someone like Sancho this summer could silence the dissent … we’ll see.
Error-prone Fred needs to sharpen
As with the Roma game during the week, Fred was to blame for preparing for Villa’s first goal.
United’s defensive weaknesses were seen again when a weak pass from Fred to McTominay allowed Villa’s John McGinn to find Bertrand Traore, who shot the ball past Henderson from a tight angle that he really had no business with.
It was a brilliant finish from the Villa striker that perhaps surprised Henderson given the unusual angle, and Lindelof could have done better by bringing a block into it.
However, United’s defensive problems lately appear to be due to their defensive central midfielders. Fred is too error-prone and McTominay, who is difficult to criticize because his passion burns brightly, is too often lost and could work on his positioning.
There has been, and apparently always been, debates about who will sign United as wingers and defenders.
But until they break the center of midfield and an aging Matic isn’t exactly a defending champion, United will continue to give soft goals.
(Photo by NICK POTTS / POOL / AFP via Getty Images)
Ole has got off to a strong start in the pairings
For the second time this season, Ole has resisted an overloaded schedule list.
Including today’s game, United will play four games within nine days. The next game starts just 50 hours after today’s final whistle.
This left Ole making some tough decisions for tonight’s game and a lot will be made of how he manages the rest of this month including a Europa League final.
With a guaranteed top four spot, United still have some difficult games to play, including the re-arranged game against rivals Liverpool and Wolves on the final day that could mark a nervous end to the season.
A win against Villa today was crucial to calm some of those nerves and the 1-0 return down showed some title wins from the squad.
United deserved finishing second this season and as long as Ole can turn the squad effectively it should pay off.
Maguire injured will be the manager’s first challenge.
(Photo by Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)
United Delay City is celebrating again
While United are certainly just delaying the inevitable, it felt good to put the Manchester City title celebration back for at least a few days and mathematically keep the prospect of a title challenge alive.
Today’s win brings United up to 70 points, 10 points ahead of City with one game in hand.
If United can close the gap to seven points and hold it until the end of the season, it should be considered a successful season, especially if they also win the Europa League.
United is still in the middle of a renovation and many United fans would have finished second and a Europa League final if it had been offered earlier in the season.
But at least for now, they can enjoy making city fans wait just a little longer.
Do you have something to tell us about this article?