Belfast Telegraph

Momentum is with Manchester United

Man United 3 - Aston Villa 1

By Tim Rich

The story of Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson chose to spend more time with his wine and his horses can be summed up in two Easter Sundays.

The first saw the end of David Moyes, harried and humiliated at Goodison Park, the ground he had once ruled. The defeat by Everton meant it was mathematically impossible for United to make the Champions League. Moyes was gone within 24 hours.

His successor, Louis van Gaal, will have enjoyed this Easter, qualification for the Champions League now virtually assured. He has never thought it likely that United might overhaul Chelsea and steal the title but there is the Manchester derby on the horizon and it is now City who look uncertain.

Saturday's relaxed 3-1 win over Aston Villa was United's fifth victory in a row. Even in the uncertain times when Van Gaal was changing formations, rotating personnel and creating a rigid, overcoached mess, his side raised their game for the big matches.

They have lost only once to a team in the top five and that was the 1-0 defeat at the Etihad in November when Chris Smalling was sent off.

"That was another Manchester United, I believe," said Van Gaal. "Now we have developed the team. That defeat was more at the start of the process and now we are at the end of the process. The confidence of our players is very high at the moment."

City can go ahead of United if they avoid defeat at Crystal Palace tonight, but the momentum in Manchester now lies at Old Trafford.

"They have to lose for us to remain in a better position than Manchester City but the next game is the decisive game," said Van Gaal. "If they lose a point against Crystal Palace, it will be sitting in their minds. We have a lot of confidence and we have not lost so many times at home."

United's revival has been propelled by footballers many thought unlikely to survive Moyes - Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young and Ander Herrera, who always seemed to be on the sidelines under his successor.

Young again kept out Angel Di Maria and went off to an ovation, while the Basque's two goals, though less spectacular than Wayne Rooney's strike, proved decisive.

Van Gaal seems to trust Herrera now. "He is more composed on the ball now," he said. "Positionally, he is playing better than in the beginning and, if you are a midfielder and score seven goals without playing regularly then how can you do better?"

Herrera said: "It was a great day, one of the best in my professional career.

"It's the first time I have scored twice in (one game in) my career, so I am very happy.

"It is my top-scoring season. Now, I want to keep scoring more to help the team."

The men whose signings sent a thrill through the red half of Manchester, a symbol that United's wealth would be deployed to drag them back into Europe, remained on the fringes. Di Maria did not start.

As he had in the 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter-final, the Argentine provided the cross for Rooney's goal, although this fell behind the England captain and only the striker's supreme skill sent it into the net.

As for Radamel Falcao, who spent the international break scoring easy goals in the Middle East, there were 13 minutes that produced one dreadful skewed shot into the Stretford End.

The Colombian's career has been a story of leaving clubs just when they qualify for the Champions League and Manchester United will be no different to Monaco or Atletico Madrid.

Other than Christian Benteke's consolation, Villa offered little on the attack and they are now in serious danger of being sucked back into the relegation zone.

Tim Sherwood will be looking for an immediate response tomorrow night when his team host relegation rivals QPR, who hammered West Brom 4-1 this weekend.

"It's a massive game for us," the Villa boss said.

"But we're aiming to put six points between us and them by the end of that game."

Belfast Telegraph


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