Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hailed Manchester United’s progress over the last year after a 2-1 win over Aston Villa took them level on points with Liverpool at the top of the Premier League. A year ago to the day, United missing 2-0 at Arsenal to fall 24 points in the back of the English champions, having played two games more. Another season contending just for a top-four finish looked in store for Solskjaer’s men after winning only two of their opening six league games. But as all of the other contenders have stumbled in recent weeks, the Red Devils have now taken 26 from a imaginable 30 points to mount an unforeseen title challenge.
“Of class lesson we are happy with what we are doing. We have shown we have improved a lot in a year,” said Solskjaer.
“We are getting fitter and fitter and stronger and stronger.”
Bruno Fernandes has been the key figure in transforming United’s fortunes over the last 12 months and the Portuguese again given the winner to edge out a all of a sudden making improvements to Villa side.
Solskjaer’s side needed a 93rd minute winner to defeat Wolves on Tuesday, but were far faster out the blocks this time round.
Anthony Martial forced Emiliano Martinez into an excellent save high to his left within 10 minutes before Fred, Paul Pogba and Fernandes fired efforts just off target.
The breakthrough came five minutes before the break and owed much to Pogba’s ingenuity with the Frenchman in the end starting to find form despite the hypothesis over his future.
Pogba and Marcus Rashford combined to send Aaron Wan-Bissaka free down the correct and his cross used to be headed home by Martial at the close post.
Villa were on a five-game unbeaten run themselves to earn a place in the top six and showed why with their start to the second-half as United were forced back.
Jack Grealish used to be again at the heart of all of the visitors’ best work going forward and it used to be from his cross that Bertrand Traore equalised.
On the other hand, Dean Smith’s men quickly undid their good work as a soft challenge from Douglas Luiz on Pogba used to be deemed enough for a penalty by referee Michael Oliver.
Fernandes’s near-perfect penalty record continued as he slotted the spot-kick just out of the reach of Martinez for his 15th goal of the season.
United needed a big save from David De Gea to disclaim Matty Cash and a courageous block from Eric Baily in stoppage time to hang on and Solskjaer isn’t getting carried absent with talk of challenging for the title ahead of a go back and forth to Liverpool in two weeks’ time.
“It’s early on in the season and we should not be carried absent,” added the Norwegian. “The league this season is going to be so tight.
“There are going to be difficult games, bizarre results, but since ‘Project Restart’ I think we’ve been very consistent.”
Everton lack ‘quality’
Earlier, Everton missed the chance to shut to inside a point of the top two as they were beaten 1-0 at home by West Ham.
The Toffees failed to impose themselves on a West Ham side playing their third game in six days and were punished when Tomas Soucek slotted home the winner four minutes from time.
“It used to be not a good game,” said Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti.
“We didn’t have opportunities and we didn’t concede opportunities, they had a fortunate deflection and we missing the game. We could play with more intensity and more quality up front.”
David Moyes’s men had the toughest festive fixture schedule in the Premier League in relation to rest and he said there was a change in mindset with the Hammers this season to battle through adversity.
“The players have played three games in six games, they’re amazing,” said Moyes, who won for the first time as a visiting manager at Goodison Park, where he made his name in 11 years in charge of Everton.
“I don’t believe there used to be any difference in the fitness levels so great credit to the players, there was a big change in the mentality here at West Ham.”
Victory took West Ham to inside three points of third, even supposing they remain in 10th in a tight Premier League table.
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