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United View: McTominay winner keeps top-four hopes alive.

In a crucial clash against Aston Villa, Manchester United’s hard-fought 2-1 victory kept their hopes of qualification alive, reducing the gap between the two clubs to five points.

Even though it’s a difficult task, United have given themselves a fighting chance thanks to Scott McTominay’s late winner.

McTominay has been a crucial game-changer for United this season, consistently being in the right place at the right time to earn his side another three points. Sunday was another example of this, heading home Diogo Dalot’s cross in the 86th minute for his seventh goal of the season.

No other player has earned their side more points in the Premier League this season than Scott Mctominay, whose goals have earned United 12 points, most notably braces against Brentford and Chelsea.

Recently it appeared that McTominay has assumed the role of a ‘Raumdeuter,’ a term borrowed from German football, meaning a ‘space invader.’ In this role, he operates behind a striker akin to Thomas Muller. Much like the Bayern Munich forward, McTominay’s focus is on finding and exploiting spaces, often avoiding involvement in the build-up to position himself for finishing moves.

He's a player ten Hag trusts, even if it is just as an impact sub. He exerted similar trust in Casemiro and Kobbie Mainoo, both of whom picked up yellow cards in the first half but only the latter was substituted in stoppage time.

Two other players who have shown they can be trusted this season are Diogo Dalot and Harry Maguire, who were both terrific at Villa Park.

Maguire, who has had a difficult last two years at Old Trafford, deserves his flowers for his performances and attitude this season. And on Sunday he was very solid and a presence in both boxes, even winning the header to assist Rasmus Hojlund for United’s first.

Meanwhile, Dalot has quietly gone about his business this season and has shown improvements in his defensive qualities. There are still areas he can improve upon, but considering he is still 24 years old there is plenty of time for him to continue to improve.

It wasn’t an entirely convincing display. United started well but came under pressure after opening the scoring in the 17th minute and at times they rode their luck, either with last-ditch clearances or Villa not taking their chances.

And when Douglas Luiz equalised with 20 minutes to go, it felt like Villa would go on and win it. However, Villa failed to capitalise, and the Reds dug deep to claim all three points.

Considering how good Unai Emery’s side has been at home this season, with wins against Manchester City and Arsenal, the importance of this win can’t be understated. United did a job on Villa, defending well and proving to be more clinical.

Admittedly the Reds could exert more control on games in future, something that ten Hag expressed in his post-match interview, saying “making better decisions on the ball, we went in every situation for goal instead of keeping the ball... drag them out and find the right moment to speed up.”

It’s something United have rarely done this season, but 2024 has shown that United have improved in other areas such as in their ability to score goals. If they can now start to dominate the ball, there’s a promising prospect that overall team performances will also improve.

The Reds are arguably experiencing their best run of form this campaign and now have a favourable set of fixtures, Luton (Away) and Fulham (Home) in the league before a trip to Nottingham Forrest in the FA Cup.

If United can pick up some good results in these matches, momentum will be on their side ahead of the Manchester Derby on March 3rd.

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