Premier League – United overwhelm sorry Villa
A breathtaking attacking performance saw Manchester United re-establish their six-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 4-0 win over Aston Villa.
Wayne Rooney‘s brace and goals from Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo did not tell the full story as United obliterated an Aston Villa side already low on confidence and without a win in the whole month of March.
The manner of the victory stood out as much as the scoreline, United hitting Villa in waves, mesmerising spectators and opposition players alike with constant one-touch passing and expressions of flair that formed a direct response to ten-man Arsenal’s last-gasp 3-2 win at Bolton earlier in the day.
Oddly, Villa had the first decent opportunity of the match when Ashley Young volleyed from just inside the box, Wes Brown blocking behind for a corner, but the hosts soon stamped their authority, Rooney seeing a sweet half-volley blocked, Ronaldo forcing a good save from Scott Carson with a low drive after neat interplay from Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick, and Brown heading just over from the subsequent corner.
United then took a 17th-minute lead, Ronaldo adding weight to the argument that he is currently the best player in the world with an exquisitely improvised backheel after Villa failed to clear a corner. It was his 35th goal for his club this season, and arguably the most spectacular, the quickness of thought and fleetness of foot required to execute the finish aligned with the power and balance needed to force it through Martin Laursen‘s legs and past the unsighted Carson.
The inevitable mismatch of quality and form – United had previously won six Premier League matches on the trot while Villa have not won in March – was compounded by Martin O’Neill’s injury problems, Nigel Reo-Coker forced to play at right back for the first time in his professional career and John Carew taken off in the first half with an apparent groin strain.
A central midfielder by trade, Reo-Coker was doing a decent job getting forward and putting crosses in to support Gabriel Agbonlahor on the wing, but he was repeatedly finding himself caught out defensively. Veteran winger Giggs was giving him a torrid time with the ball at his feet, also turning him inside out by constantly swapping flanks with Ronaldo, while the former England Under-21 international’s positioning left Villa short at the back and was a direct cause for United’s second goal on 33 minutes, Tevez ghosting in at the far post to head in Ronaldo’s cross after he had himself initiated the flowing move in midfield.
Villa came out after half-time with a touch more initiative, almost forcing United into a succession of errors with some good pressure, including one incident where the referee decided that Harewood fouled Scholes in dispossessing him on the edge of the Reds’ area before Scholes took him down.
United should have scored immediately afterwards, Rooney sent clean through by Tevez but somehow firing wide, Shaun Maloney doing exactly the same when a long ball was missed by Nemanja Vidic to release the Scotland forward.
And, just after seeing a Ronaldo volley hit the bar via the leg of Wilfred Bouma, the hosts got their third through a very similar move, Giggs playing the ball inside to Ronaldo, who deftly backheeled the ball for Rooney to make no mistake the second time of asking, rounding Carson and rolling the ball into the empty net.
The Midlanders were not about to roll over and die though, continuing to put pressure on United and hitting the woodwork through Maloney, whose shot was well-saved by Tomasz Kuszczak.
Mindful of the midweek Champions League quarter final grudge match at Roma, Sir Alex Ferguson made wholesale changes on the hour mark, taking off Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Carrick and introducing Anderson, Owen Hargreaves and John O’Shea. It made very little difference to United’s attacking impetus though, Hargreaves immediately laying on a gilt-edged opportunity for Tevez, the Argentina striker only able to head wide when found unmarked. Villa had their moments too, Maloney and Young going close in quick succession but denied by last-gasp blocks.
But United were on fire, Rooney shaving the outside of the post with a first-time effort after more champagne football from Giggs, Tevez and Ronaldo and the England striker getting his second and his side’s fourth with a confident finish into the bottom left following more one-touch play by the aforementioned trio after Olof Mellberg gave the ball away 30 yards out.
Rooney had the ball in the back of the net one more time, although he was correctly called offside when finishing Hargreaves’s excellent cross, United cooling off to declare at four and in fine form ahead of Tuesday’s big match in Rome, although there is a fitness concern over Giggs, who walked off early with a look of slight discomfort to leave his side down to ten men for the remaining five minutes.
Manchester United now lead the league by six points from Arsenal, while Villa lie eighth, still eight goals ahead of Manchester City, who are level on points.