3 takeaways from Manchester United win against Aston Villa

Aston Villa v Manchester United - Premier League
Aston Villa v Manchester United - Premier League / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

Manchester United celebrated another excellent win at Villa Park this weekend and are now only 5 points behind Sunday’s opponents in the race for Champions League football.

An early poacher’s goal from Rasmus Hojlund and a late header from super sub Scott McTominay were enough to secure a 2-1 win for Erik ten Hag’s charges in England’s second city. United are unbeaten in 2024 and have won their last three Premier League games in a row as they now ready themselves for a trip to face Luton next week.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s late win over Aston Villa:

Scott McTominay
Aston Villa v Manchester United - Premier League / Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/GettyImages

Maguire and McTominay - From almost stepping out, to stepping up

In the summer of 2023, Scott McTominay and Harry Maguire were deemed surplus to requirements by Erik ten Hag. The United boss was happy to let both players leave if suitable offers were made to the club.

A bidder for Maguire was found in the shape of West Ham United but United’s former captain refused to move and vowed to fight for his place in the side. Since winning his place back in the starting lineup, Maguire has barely put a foot wrong and was a deserving winner of Player of the Match against Aston Villa. He was a constant threat from set pieces and assisted Hojlund’s opener. He marshaled the United defense well and is United’s best passer from centre back in the absence of Lisandro Martinez. 

Scott McTominay too deserves much praise for his determination to win his place in the United side. An attacking midfielder in his academy days, McTominay has shown a genuine attacker’s instinct this season and his late winner against Aston Villa on Sunday evening saw United finish the weekend on a high, and crucially, now only 5 points behind their opponents.  As the excellent Laurie Whitwell wrote in the Athletic, Scott McTominay’s 7 Premier League goals for Manchester United this season have been worth an astonishing 12 points.
Without McTominay’s goals, United would currently sit in 12th place. Where he fits into this United side is up for debate but the value of his goals are not.

Scott McTominay has been a clutch player for the Reds this season and has shown tremendous character to rise from unwanted squad player to indispensable asset from the bench. It is the kind of attitude that will hopefully leave an impression in the United dressing room ahead of a crucial summer.

Rasmus Hojlund
Aston Villa v Manchester United - Premier League / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

Rasmus Højlund can’t stop scoring

For the first time in a very long time, United have an extremely promising young striker in the team. On Sunday evening, Rasmus Hojlund, aged 21 years and 1 week, became the 2nd youngest player to score in 5 Premier League games in a row since Nicolas Anelka. If he can score every other game between now and the end of the season, he will give United every chance of securing a place in next season’s Champions League.

Because of the price tag and because of how important to the team he already is, it can be very easy to forget that this is a young man with barely 50 senior league appearances in top leagues. 

He gives the team a much needed focal point in attack and his selfless runs and excellent hold-up play have made him a wonderful foil for his attacking colleagues. His movement on occasions freed up space for chances for both Garnacho and Rashford. He also occupied Villa’s centre halves for United’s winner leaving McTominay to battle it out with Matty Cash to power home his header. 

Hojlund only celebrated his 21st birthday last week, so we can hope for still more improvement in the coming seasons but his performances in the last two and a half months for United have been sensational and if he can continue to perform in this fashion, the €74 million forked out to prize him away from Atalanta may well prove to be a bargain.

Erik ten Hag, Steve McClaren
Newcastle United v Manchester United - Premier League / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

United must control games better

This United team is still a work in progress and without Lisandro Martinez and, in the second half, Luke Shaw, United looked incapable of keeping the ball or dictating the momentum of the game.

Aston Villa are one of the better coached teams in the Premier League but United need to control games better than they did at the weekend. Villa do play a very high defensive line, so United were always going to look to exploit that by playing the ball forward early and often but there were occasions where they needed to kill Villa’s momentum by keeping the ball. 

Instead, Villa were able to pin United back for large periods of the game. Maguire is tremendous when defending deep and United were fortunate to be able to count on him but it should be noted that The Red Devils were also fortunate that Aston Villa were wasteful in front of goal.

If United are serious about getting into the Champions League places, they need to figure out a way to dominate games for longer spells. This may require specific instructions from Erik ten Hag but one feels that the senior players like Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro need to do some onfield coaching and help United take the sting out of games that become too frantic.