MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United remain on course for a top-four finish after beating Aston Villa 1-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday. Bruno Fernandes scored the only goal in the first half as Erik ten Hag’s side bounced back from their disappointment at Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday.
United dominated the first half but needed Victor Lindelof at his best after half-time to ensure another clean sheet and stretch their unbeaten league run at Old Trafford to 15 games.
Douglas Luiz came closest to an equaliser for Villa but saw his shot headed off the line by Lindelof, who also produced another good block to deny Jacob Ramsey.
1. United take another step towards top-four finish
United haven’t confirmed their return to the Champions League but victory over Aston Villa represents a big step. A run of games against Tottenham, Villa and Brighton was always going to be crucial in the race for the top four and after the second-half collapse against Spurs on Thursday, it was vital they didn’t drop more points.
Villa arrived as one of the most in-form teams in the league but United started well and kept them at arm’s length for most of the afternoon. Ramsey was well-marshalled by Casemiro, and Ollie Watkins barely had a touch upfront. Unai Emery was so annoyed during the first half that he spent most of it barking at Emiliano Buendia and pacing around his technical area like a caged animal, clenching his fists in frustration and waving his arms.
There were moments when it wasn’t comfortable and United needed Lindelof — man of the match against Brighton at Wembley in the FA Cup semifinal — to have another good game but if you can grind out wins at this stage of the season then it’s a good sign. Another positive result against Brighton on Thursday and a top-four finish will be within touching distance.
2. Match played out against a backdrop of protest
The third and final bids to buy United were lodged on Friday night but there are still fears the Glazer family will end up sticking around. There’s a growing frustration among supporters that a process — which began in November — will not end with the club’s hated owners disappearing once and for all and the fans made their demands clear on Sunday ahead of the game against Villa.
Around 1,000 fans marched the 2½ miles from Manchester city centre to Old Trafford before kick-off carrying banners with the messages “Full sale only” and “We want our club back.”
The stadium briefly went into lockdown with metal shutters coming down at the directors’ entrance as supporters gathered outside with smoke canisters and flares. Some fans stayed outside for the first 18 minutes of the game to mark each year since the Glazers’ leveraged takeover in 2005.
United have won a trophy and are well on course to finish in the top four in Ten Hag’s first season in charge, but the mood around the club will be soured if the Glazers don’t sell. It was a protest which felt like a warning of things to come if United are not in the hands of new owners by the start of next season.
3. Aston Villa freeze as good run ends
Villa had won eight of their previous 10 league games to propel themselves into the race for the European places, but if this was an opportunity to prove how good they are under Emery, they missed their chance.
Their start was so poor that it had Emery ranting and raving on the touchline and even though they improved after half-time, United still deserved to win without ever being at their best. Emery will be particularly disappointed that after scoring in his first 20 league games in charge, Villa drew a blank at Old Trafford and could manage only one shot on target.
The result won’t detract from what the Spanish coach has done at Villa Park and after their first defeat since February, it’s easy to forget that his main aim after taking over from Steven Gerrard in November was to ensure Premier League survival.
Villa have got a tough run-in with games against Tottenham, Liverpool and Brighton to come but the opportunity is still there to record a top-six finish and qualify for Europe. Their good run has come to an end but the season can still finish on a positive note.
Best and worst performers
Victor Lindelof, DF, Man United: Another good game which featured a vital block on Ramsey and a heroic goal-line header to deny Luiz.
Casemiro, MF, Man United: Kept Ramsey very quiet and won the header that set up Fernandes’ goal.
Bruno Fernandes, MF, Man United: One of United’s players of the season scored the crucial goal to win the game.
Alexandre Moreno, DF, Aston Villa: He should have been more alert to the rebound off Emi Martinez and was beaten to it by Fernandes when United went ahead.
Emiliano Buendia, MF, Aston Villa: Spent most of the first half being told off by Emery on an afternoon when nothing he did seemed to work.
Ollie Watkins, ST, Aston Villa: Came into the game in a fantastic run of form but never got a sight of the goal here.
Highlights and notable moments
Despite Man United’s dominance throughout the match, it was Fernandes’ goal that made all the difference between the two sides.
After the match: What the managers, players said
Postmatch quotes will appear here…
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Manchester United: Ten Hag’s side travel to in-form Brighton on Thursday before facing West Ham on May 7. The Red Devils have all but secured a UEFA Champions League for next season and will look to close out this campaign on a strong note.
Aston Villa: Emery’s Villains face Wolves next on Saturday, followed by a home match against a Tottenham Hotspur side that has been subpar and inconsistent this season.