After convincing wins for the other teams in the title race prior to kick-off, the pressure was on the champions going into this away clash. But Villa Park is traditionally a happy hunting ground for United and Sir Alex's team collected three points thanks to Phil Jones' first-ever goal at senior level.
The visitors were rarely troubled after the 20th-minute strike and were good value for victory at a ground where the Reds are unbeaten in the league since the start of the 1995/96 season. The manager will be pleased to secure another success after three matches without a win in the fixture that sees him overtake Sir Matt Busby's league record of 972 games in charge.
Ashley Young played against his old club for the first time with Jones partnering Michael Carrick in midfield and Chris Smalling rewarded for a fine display in midweek with the right-back slot. Anders Lindegaard was preferred to David De Gea in goal.
After a sluggish opening, there was a lengthy stoppage when Javier Hernandez went down in some pain, after turning on his ankle, and was taken off on a stretcher with suspected ligament damage. On came Antonio Valencia, with Nani switched to a central role, and the champions took control with Smalling having a shot on the turn blocked after Nemanja Vidic got his head to a Young corner.
With 20 minutes on the clock, Jones beat Shay Given with United's first shot on target. Patrice Evra found space in midfield and fed Nani on the left and his accurate cross allowed Jones to cushion in a volley, and enjoy his moment of celebration by exchanging a wave with Sir Alex and the coaching staff on the bench.