Manchester United vs Aston Villa match report: Ander Herrera and Wayne Rooney's brilliant strike see United move above City into third

Manchester United 3 Aston Villa 1

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Given that from his seat on the home bench, Louis van Gaal can see silhouettes of all the trophies that Sir Alex Ferguson brought to Old Trafford on the stand that bears his name, the achievement of merely qualifying for the Champions League would not count for very much.

It says something for the state of what he described as the “broken team” he inherited, that this was the brief Van Gaal was given in his first season at a club that since 1991 has only once failed to finish in the top three.

Once Liverpool had capitulated against Arsenal, Manchester United knew they would virtually guarantee a return to the European elite with a victory against Aston Villa. Since the biggest club in Britain’s second city had managed one win here in 32 years, this was a result that was almost foretold.

Asked whether he might still win the title, something he did in his first seasons at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Van Gaal smiled and remarked that the gap between United and Chelsea was roughly the same as the lead they now enjoyed over Liverpool. “But we won and Arsenal won,” he added. “So, there will still be pressure and with pressure you never know.”

And yet, only when Ander Herrera side-footed home Juan Mata’s pull-back in stoppage time was the afternoon entirely safe. It was the Basque’s second goal of the game and his seventh of the season. For someone who has not always been central to Van Gaal’s thinking this counts as a fine return.

Ander Herrera opened the scoring just before half-time

The margin of victory might have been rather more than two goals and, although the win appeared to be guaranteed by a fabulous goal from Wayne Rooney, David De Gea somehow allowed Christian Benteke’s shot to squirm under his body.

When four minutes of injury time was announced there was a tinge of anxiety aground the stadium that was probably more than Aston Villa’s performance deserved. Herrera snuffed it out with a similar goal to his first, which had been set up by Daley Blind’s cut-back rather than Mata’s.

Wayne Rooney scored a brilliant goal on the turn from an Angel Di Maria cross

Christian Benteke pulled a goal back within a couple of minutes

Rooney’s was a goal that deserved to win any football match. As he had for his last goal at Old Trafford, against Arsenal in the FA Cup, it was delivered by Angel Di Maria. This time Rooney (left) brought it down with the toe of his boot, and struck it as it bounced up from the turf.

If he was tired from the international break or from his wife Coleen’s 29th birthday party, Rooney did not show it and he has been at United long enough to know what clambering above Manchester City – even for a day and a half – means.

Ander Herrera scored his second late on to seal the points

Manchester United: (4-3-3) De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Blind; Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini (Falcao 77); Mata, Rooney, Young (Di Maria 70).

Aston Villa: (4-2-3-1) Guzan; Hutton (Bacuna ht), Okore, Clark, Lowton; Sanchez, Delph; N’Zogbia (Baker 61), Agbonlahor, Weimann (Cole 77); Benteke.

Referee: Roger East

Man of the match: Rooney (Manchester United)

Match rating: 6/10