On a day when Arsenal showed a flicker of hope remains in their title bid, United sent an emphatic message to the Gunners and fellow rivals Chelsea.
With goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and, most pleasingly, two for Wayne Rooney, United beat Aston Villa comprehensively and conclusively. It ended 4-0, but that figure could have been significantly higher. This was, quite simply, one of the Reds’ best performances of the season. With six games to go, it's a resounding statement of intent.
Nothing was lacking. Goals, skill, determination, and sumptuous football at times. Villa couldn’t live with United. They arrived without a win at Old Trafford in 25 years (they won 2-1 in November 1983) and on a run of 13 straight defeats against the Reds.
Martin O’Neill signalled his intentions to end a recent run that has seen Villa collect just two points from their last four games. He paired power with more power in the form of John Carew and Marlon Harewood up front, and rapid runners Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor on either flank. With Arsenal earlier in the day coming back from 2-0 down to beat Bolton 3-2, the Reds knew the significance of maintaining their record against Villa.
There could be no time to bask in the afterglow of last Sunday’s 3-0 win over Liverpool - not least because it was extinguished by the heavy rain throughout. The weather brought a zip to the surface, and a speed to both teams' play.
Villa threatened first when Wes Brown blocked Ashley Young’s goal-bound volley. It led to a couple of corners for the visitors, an early warning of one of Villa’s best attacking options.
Rooney led United’s early attacking forays, his cross after five minutes causing Nigel Reo-Coker to head behind for a corner, from which his stunning volley was