BIRMINGHAM (AFP) – Adnan Januzaj marked his Manchester United return with a goal as Louis van Gaal s side beat Aston Villa 1-0 on Friday to claim a second consecutive Premier League victory.
Making his first start since February, Januzaj converted a glorious pass from Juan Mata on the half-hour as United extended an unbeaten record in league games at Villa Park that now stands at 20 years.
Following a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, this victory, in a game brought forward due to a far-right march in the area on Saturday, means United, now top of the table, have started a season with back-to-back wins for the first time since 2011.
“I think we have played better than last week, certainly in the first 25 minutes,” said United manager Van Gaal. “But after we scored the goal, we were running out of the game. We had a lot of unnecessary ball losses.
“I m very pleased, because you can t get more points than six.”
It took United until November 22 to record their first away win last season and with Van Gaal having pinpointed his side s away form as an area in need of improvement, he will hope that this win augurs well for the campaign ahead.
Villa gave home debuts to no fewer than six players, while new signing Adama Traore watched from the stands after completing his move from Barcelona, but despite strong starts to each half, last season s beaten FA Cup finalists struggled to create chances.
“I didn t think there was too much in the game, to be perfectly honest,” said Villa manager Tim Sherwood.
“I felt the boys gave everything for the cause, but we didn t carry enough attacking threat.”
Rudy Gestede s match-winning cameo against Bournemouth last weekend had strengthened his claim to a starting place, but it was with pace, rather than height, that Villa sought to unsettle United centre-backs Chris Smalling and Daley Blind, zipping passes between and behind them for Jordan Ayew and Gabriel Agbonlahor to chase.
With Januzaj starting behind Wayne Rooney at number 10, Memphis Depay moved to the left flank for United, and both took time to settle, Depay bundled over by Jordan Veretout and Januzaj flattened by Idrissa Gueye.
Villa could not set foot in the United box, though, and the visitors began to fire warning shots, with Brad Guzan forced to race from his goal and thwart Depay after the ball broke into the Dutchman s path.
United went ahead in the 29th minute courtesy of Januzaj, who has been linked with a loan move after falling out of favour in Van Gaal s first season.
After drifting to the left flank from the right, Mata released Januzaj with a brilliant through ball and the Belgian left Micah Richards on the turf with a sharp turn before beating Guzan with the aid of a deflection off Ciaran Clark. It was his first goal since April 2014.
Having spent last season on loan at Fiorentina, new Villa captain Richards knows a thing or two about Serie A defending and he was reacquainted with it shortly before half-time.
United s Italian right-back Matteo Darmian prevented the former Manchester City man from making telling contact with Ashley Westwood s drilled corner, but referee Mike Dean ignored Villa s penalty appeals.
Villa Park was not full at kick-off, the legacy of traffic problems on a local motorway, but it was rammed and raucous for the start of the second half as the hosts went in search of an equaliser.
Ayew shot over, enterprising left-back Jordan Amavi fizzed a cross across goal and Agbonlahor saw a header saved by Sergio Romero, standing in once again for the unsettled David de Gea.
Sherwood pitched Gestede into the fray on the hour and Van Gaal sent on Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ander Herrera moments later.
Schweinsteiger s introduction gave United s game a much-needed injection of composure and Depay squandered an excellent chance to add a second when he curled wide from Mata s incisive pass.