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Update Premier League: Man Utd beat Aston Villa 2-1, level on points with Liverpool

Premier League: Man Utd beat Aston Villa 2-1, level on points with first-placed Liverpool

[Image: pogba-bruno-1609556704.jpg]

Bruno Fernandes scoring a penalty has become a very familiar sight for Manchester United. Being among the Premier League frontrunners has not been seen in recent years for the fallen giant.

United went level on points with leader Liverpool with a 2-1 victory that ended Aston Villa's five-game unbeaten run on Friday. The win was secured by Fernandes scoring his ninth spotkick since making his debut 11 months ago.

While United is still behind Liverpool on goal difference, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side has won one more and has the team looking well-placed to mount a challenge for a first title since 2013.

“We are building something important — we know that,” Fernandes said. “I see in the stands the last two or three minute, everyone shouting and hoping we don’t concede the goal and take care of the ball. We have to build this more and more.”

Of course, there weren't many to shout. With Manchester in near-lockdown and games closed to fans, just a few hundred key personnel — including players — were allowed into Old Trafford on New Year's Day.

One of them was the most legendary figure in British football: Alex Ferguson, who produced United's record-extending 20th English title before retiring eight years ago.

A day after his 79th birthday, the Scot saw Anthony Martial head United in front in the 40th minute at the end of a counterattack started by Paul Pogba. And it was Pogba who won the penalty — from the restart after Bertrand Traoré's equalizer — that allowed Fernandes to clinch the win in the 61st minute.

Such has been United's decline in the post-Ferguson years that only once — in 2018 under Jose Mourinho — has United finished second and then it was 19 points behind Manchester City.

And when Solskjaer opened 2020 with United 27 points behind eventual champion Liverpool, the manager's days looked numbered.

“It's such a big difference when you look 12 months back,” Solskjaer said. “It's a good position to be in but we need to improve and get better.”

Key to United's transformation last season that secured a third-place finish was Fernandes arriving in the January transfer window.


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