Rooney Inspires Nervy Manchester United

Updated: April 6, 2015

Wayne-RooneyA stroke of genius from Wayne Rooney helped secure three points for a lacklustre Manchester United, whose run continues after their dream result two weeks ago.

With only one change from the side that beat Liverpool it was apparent very early on that United were still in confident mood.  They exploited the whole width of the pitch in old-fashioned United style, with Blind and Young down the left doubling up for each other and Mata and Valencia on the right.  Carrick and Herrera policed the midfield, always looking to find a pass that would unlock the Villa back four.

Louis Van Gaal would have been very happy with his side’s first 10 minutes, with heavy pressure applied to the Villa goal, most notably from Mata and Young, with the Villa centre backs often pinned back and looking desperately for ways to push up the pitch. On five minutes came a golden chance for United when Rooney was downed by Ciaran Clark for what seemed a clear penalty and sending off, but perhaps Rooney’s slight theatrics in falling prevented the referee pointing to the spot.

United then seemed to take their foot off the gas, spreading the play wide but lacking real threat going forward.  Their only effort of significance came from outside the box with a Marcos Rojo long-range effort that was just tipped over by Guzan.  Apart from a fluffed bicycle kick by Rooney on 26 minutes the first half was a mostly scrappy affair with United trying to get down the flanks but not truly creating any clear-cut chances. When Villa did win the ball back (United ended the half on 74% possession) they tried to forge a classic counter-attack but also to no real avail.

In the 43rd minute United finally exploited the left side they had been working on throughout the half.  Villa’s Alan Hutton had rolled on his ankle just over five minutes previously but had been left on by Tim Sherwood to see the half out. This proved unwise when Young and Blind combined effectively to find Herrera in space in the box, whose cool left-footed finish beat Guzan to his left.

Villa almost equalised straight after the break after a Weimann pullback found Benteke in space, but he could only sky the ball from 12 yards.  Ashley Young then replied by cutting in from the left with a trademark run but saw his low curling shot go a mere yard wide.  It was down the right-hand side that United then started to have some joy with Valencia overloading on Mata to provide a chance from close range that Fellaini could not quite convert.

An uneasy feeling started to creep in as United got sloppier in midfield, with Valencia running out of ideas and Rooney only shooting tamely at goal when Villa gifted him the ball.  The tension was eased on 76 minutes, shortly after Di Maria was introduced.  He fed Rooney with a cross that seemed both too high and too pacey, but Rooney again showed why he suits the striking role as he plucked the ball from the air, swivelled and smashed brilliantly into the top corner on the half volley.

The sublime nature of Rooney’s finish was immediately marred by Villa pulling one back a minute later.  From a corner, Christian Benteke’s tame shot from near the penalty spot went straight under De Gea, the Spaniard making one of his only errors in recent memory.  The uneasiness immediately returned.

Just inside stoppage time, when a determined Rooney won a drop ball, he shifted it out to Mata who found Herrera on the 18-yard line for another precise low finish into the corner. The final whistle shortly followed at a relieved Old Trafford.  United’s performance was by no means vintage, but they are starting to show signs that they can get the job done and build upon previous good performances.   To win well last time was a dream, to win ugly today a necessity.  A weakened Liverpool’s poor show at the Emirates now opens an 8-point gap between themselves and United, cementing the Reds’ hold on fourth.  That United are starting to see out the nervous times is the best encouragement that they can keep it that way.

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