Manchester United brought their four-game winless streak in the Premier League to a much-needed end with a comfortable 3-0 win at a hapless Aston Villa. On the back of two-straight league defeats, United took full advantage of a Villa side who allowed their opponents far too much space throughout and were directly culpable for two of the goals against them.
The damage was done inside 18 minutes, with Danny Welbeck applying two close-range finishes before Tom Cleverley added a third early in the second half. All three goals came from United’s right side, with Antonio Valencia and Rafael particularly impressive. It was all too easy for the visitors, though, and the type of contest that David Moyes could only have dreamed about after the mounting pressure on his shoulders in recent weeks. The day was made even sweeter by the return as a substitute of Darren Fletcher, nearly a year after his last appearance. The result takes the champions up to eight place in the Premier League, 10 points off the top, but, perhaps more importantly, still six points off of the top four.
Paul Lambert, meanwhile, having overseen just one win now in Villa’s last five league matches, will have to act quick to arrest the slide and prevent another relegation struggle. While there were some decent spells of possession from the home side, without Ron Vlaar, they sorely lacked organization at the back, while Christian Benteke again looked a shadow of the marauding threat of last season.
The home side actually started well. Karim El Ahmadi and twice Marc Albrighton, once following a poor error from Patrice Evra, tested David de Gea in the Manchester United goal in the opening 10 minutes. Albrighton, easily the pick of Villa’s players, also provided Benteke with a chance in the box, too, but the Belgian’s poor touch saw the opportunity go begging. Against a more clinical side, United could well have been behind early.
Instead, they survived the early pressure and soon found Villa’s defense even more acquiescing than their own. Rafael got the better of two men down the right before putting in a good cross back from the byline that was met by a strong header down but against the post from Adnan Januzaj, only for Welbeck to react well and volley the ball home.
Villa were even more culpable in United’s second goal, just three minutes later. Nathan Baker gifted the ball straight to the opposition out of his back line, appearing that he had hurt his hamstring in the process and then being unable to recover as Valencia marauded into space down the right before crossing low for the hungry Welbeck to turn the ball in off the bar.
The visitors’ lead could have been even more resounding by the break as Villa, and particularly their left side, continued to be found wanting. Both Wayne Rooney and Welbeck dragged shots wide of the post after being set-up by Valencia, who was having a field day.
Villa have made a habit of repairing deficits in the second halves of matches this season and they provided some encouragement that they could do likewise on this occasion. After Evra was caught out once again, Yacouba Sylla headed disappointingly wide from a back-post cross. Once again, though, their own sloppiness would prevent the building of any momentum.
This time it was Antonio Luna, a fitness doubt before the match who was given a torrid afternoon, who gifted the ball straight to Tom Cleverley. After knocking a pass to the impressive Rooney, the much-maligned midfielder continued his run and received a well-paced through ball before finishing inside Brad Guzan’s near-post.
Villa improved with the introduction of Andreas Weimann off the bench, but it was far too little too late and United played out the final minutes under little pressure.