Manchester United boasted their slim Champions League hopes with a 2-1 win at top-four rivals Aston Villa.
Erik ten Hag’s men remain in sixth and five points behind the Villans, who are one back on fourth-place Tottenham with 14 matches remaining this season.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 11, 2024
The game’s breakthrough came via an increasingly familiar source. Having failed to score in any of his first 14 games, Rasmus Højlund has found the net in his last five Premier League appearances for Manchester United – the last four of which have come in the opening 25 minutes (23, 23, 5, 17).
Aged 21 years and seven days, Højlund became the second-youngest player to score in five successive Premier League appearances, only behind Nicolas Anelka for Arsenal in November 1998 (19y 239d).
Furthermore, that strike was Man Utd’s third goal in the opening 20 minutes away from home in the Premier League this season. Marcus Rashford at Wolves and Alejandro Garnacho at Everton were the other two occasions.
“Confidence, belief. He needs to get every chance and has to take them. For his goal, it’s very simple and an effective one-touch finish. United deserved it; it was a lovely start,” Roy Keane said in the Sky Sports studio.
However, removing Luke Shaw at half-time due to injury was a turning point; England International had been a defensive and offensive thorn in Villa’s side. Victor Lindelöf struggled against Leon Bailey in his place, with nearly 50% of the host’s attack coming down their right flank.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) February 11, 2024
An equaliser was inevitable, and Douglas Luiz drew the game level. Each of Luiz’s last nine top-flight goals has come at Villa Park, including all seven this season (making 2023/24 his best goalscoring Premier League campaign); this is the most by a player to score 100% of their goals at a single ground in the competition in 2023-24.
Both managers simultaneously made curious tactical changes: Emery took off the mercurial Bailey while Scott McTominay came on for Rashford, which, as it turned out, was a pivotal moment in the game. Villa’s energy suddenly disappeared just as McTominay headed United back in front.
His eighth of the campaign. Emery was visibly furious on the bench and gesticulated animatedly to his team just moments before the goal, urging them to increase their intensity.
What a time to go a goal in front!
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 11, 2024
Renowned for being meticulous, Emery would have done his homework. As it turns out, no player has scored more goals after the 85th minute in the Premier League this season than McTominay (3). Indeed, no player has scored more Premier League goals as a substitute this season than McTominay (4, level with João Pedro).
The victory was also United’s sixth on the road this season; only Manchester City (8) and Arsenal (7) have been more successful away from home in the Premier League.
“We are now at the business end of the season. It’s been so up and down for United. We are at the stage where they are six-pointers,” Gary Neville said at full-time on Sky Sports commentary.
“They could’ve been out of it but as they go over to those United fans, they go within five points and touching distance of being able to catch them [Villa].”