[Premier League] Aston Villa 0-3 Manchester United
ManUtd: Danny Welbeck (15, 18), Tom Cleverley (50)
Manchester United made a welcome return to winning ways in the Barclays Premier League with a ruthless and comprehensive 3-0 win over Aston Villa.
Danny Welbeck struck in the 15th and 18th minutes, while Tom Cleverley’s first goal for exactly a year effectively killed the game off early in the second half.
The three points efficiently earned at a cold and wet Villa Park moved the Reds up in the table, extending an unbeaten away run in the league to five games and giving a timely boost ahead of a festive fixture programme of four league outings.
With Robin van Persie injured for around a month, David Moyes’s decision to pick Welbeck up front was rewarded in perfect style with two clinical finishes from the 20-year-old. Adnan Januzaj was inches away from opening the scoring when his header to a pin-point cross from Rafael hit the base of the post, but Welbeck showed his predatory instincts to volley the rebound in past a helpless Brad Guzan in Villa’s goal.
The hosts, who had looked in a confident mood early on, were shaken by the opener and the Reds were quick to take advantage. Welbeck exchanged passes with Antonio Valencia before sprinting into the box to get to the return from the flank just ahead of Januzaj to slide the ball home.
United’s iron grip on the game tightened when Cleverley drilled the ball past Guzan five minutes into a second half which also saw the welcome return of Darren Fletcher, back as a substitute for his first appearance since Boxing Day 2012. David De Gea made a good save to his right to deny El Ahmadi’s free kick, while Welbeck’s cheeky chip just failed to give him a deserved hat-trick.
The Match The United players bided their time, absorbing some early pressure from Villa, before hitting their stride with a vibrant, confident performance. The pace of the Reds on the break made a youthful home side look sluggish by comparison, while Ryan Giggs’ speed of thought while orchestrating the midfield underlined his continued value to the side. The Barclays Premier League champions ruthlessly exploited their young opponents’ lack of guile and experience by pouncing on their prey when the chances arrived.
Goals Adnan Januzaj’s powerful header onto the base of the post, from Rafael's close-to-the-byline cross, deserved a goal, but Danny Welbeck reacted smartly to tuck the ball home with a poacher’s finish for his first. Two minutes later the England man’s give-and-go to Antonio Valencia was followed by a sprint that saw him nip in just ahead of Januzaj to double the lead. The Villans’ carelessness in midfield was rapidly exposed when Tom Cleverley collected a return pass from Wayne Rooney before firing the ball past Brad Guzan at the American keeper’s near post.
Star men Robin Van Persie’s thigh injury presented a chance for someone to seize their opportunity up front, and Danny Welbeck repaid David Moyes’ faith in his abilities as a front man. Some selfless displays for the team by Welbeck when complementing the Reds’ other strikers were rewarded, as was his determination and aggression when the chances came. Valencia gave Villa left-back Antonio Luna a torrid time, while Januzaj had his most influential game for a while.
Sub-plots Welbeck had indicated his preference for playing as a striker in his interview with MUTV before the game, and he took his opportunity in RVP’s injury-enforced absence. Tom Cleverley helped to dominate Villa’s midfield and also thoroughly deserved his goal as reward.
Opposition The hosts started well in the opening exchanges until Welbeck’s brace within three minutes completely pulled the rug from under the feet of the Villans. Once Cleverley’s goal further extended the lead, Paul Lambert’s side were as deflated as their supporters, many of whom had fled for the exits well before full time.
Move of the match With United 2-0 ahead, Rafael won the ball back on the right touchline and fed Valencia. In a flash the ball was with Wayne Rooney, whose shot rolled just a couple of inches wide for what would have been a superb goal.
In the stands The United supporters who slogged their way along the car park also known as the M6 responded to recent results with droll wit, including a rendition of 'We're staying up.' Welbeck’s two quick goals killed the atmosphere for the home support, but the visiting fans revelled in another positive away result for Moyes’ road warriors. Cheers for his return marked Darren Fletcher's every touch.