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Marcus Rashford’s first half strike ensured that Aston Villa were condemned to the second tier of English football for the first time since 1987. Losing all three points at Old Trafford made it mathematically impossible to rescue their season as even amassing maximum points from their last four matches still wouldn’t prevent the Villans from going down.
Louis van Gaal’s side had a great opportunity to put on a good show for the Old Trafford faithful with a goals galore, as Villa were quite rightly the worst team the Premier League has ever seen in recent years. Against all expectations, it turned out to be a moral victory for United who were a whisker away from forcedly sharing the spoils had Rudy Gestede’s late strike found the back of the net.
Here are four key observations from the victory:
Marcus Rashford is a proven winner
If you are good enough, you are old enough, and none is a better living embodiment than Marcus Rashford. Despite being an 18-year old unknown beyond the walls of Carrington until February, Rashford has been a revelation since making his senior debut against Midtjylland in the Europa League.
In just over two months, the Mancunian has scored 7 goals in 12 appearances, becoming the youngest ever United player to score in a European competition and the Manchester derby. And it all started with Anthony Martial’s injury in the warm up against Midtjylland, call it a blessing in disguise.
Rooney makes a captain’s return
Wayne Rooney exhibited an impressive display as he returned to skipper the Red devils for the first time since February. The talismanic forward marked his return against Aston Villa after staying on the sidelines for two months due to a knee injury.
Notwithstanding being taken off midway through the second half, Rooney was integral throughout, delivering a signature long range pass to Antonio Valencia who provided an assist for the goal.
While the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and even Marcus Rashford have proven that a call up to the Euros would suffice, it’s hard seeing Roy Hodgson going to France without his captain despite the lengthy layoff.
Mata’s dip in form
Creativity is Juan Mata’s biggest strength but the Spaniard has been inept in his last few outings for Manchester United. Although Louis van Gaal’s unexplainable tweaks and changes have seen the 27-year old displaced to the wing, Mata should be offering more attacking width albeit being played in ineffectual positions.
A good case in point is Martial who is a natural finisher but is often displaced to the wing in order to accommodate Rashford.
Top Four finish still a possibility
The win saw United cut the gap between City to a single point, but their Manchester rivals easily cruised past a beleaguered Chelsea with a 3-0 victory to further maintain the four point difference.
Manchester United are still very much in the chase for the last Champions League spot, although the algorithm still works against their favor especially because they are fully reliant on results registered by the teams above them with only four games to go.
Written by Brian Humphrey
Follow Brian on Twitter @brihum
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