It looks like Champions League football might be returning for Manchester United following a 1-0 win over fifth-place Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Bruno Fernandes’ first-half goal gave the Red Devils a lead they would not relinquish and the reward is a nine-point lead over fifth-place Tottenham and sixth-place Villa with five matches left on their Premier League docket and matches-in-hand on both.
United bounced back from its midweek blown lead against Spurs to remain two points back of victorious Newcastle with a match-in-hand on the third-place Magpies.
Villa loses for the first time in 11 Premier League matches and now has to look behind it with more attention, as Liverpool and Brighton can pass the Europe-seeking Villans with points in their matches-in-hand.
It was no more than Ten Hag's team deserved. They posed the greater threat throughout the first half, the recalled Marcel Sabitzer fizzing a shot over the bar and Casemiro having an effort of his own come back off the Aston Villa crossbar with Martinez beaten.
It was more even after the interval with Emery introducing Bertrand Traore in an attacking move. Luiz almost found the equaliser late in the game only for his shot to be headed away off the line by the excellent Lindelof, but United held on for a vital win.
MAN OF THE MATCH : VICTOR LINDELOF
Lindelof started only one Premier League game between early January and the middle of April and the fact that he has since been pressed into regular action, starting each of Manchester United's last five games, was seen as a cause for concern.
But the Sweden international has stepped up when required. He produced the game's outstanding performance in the 1-0 win over Aston Villa, a worthy player of the match. The highlight was his goal-saving header on the line to deny Luiz.
It was more than just that header though. There were a number of them. His slight touch on the ball was enough to prevent Ollie Watkins heading in from close range even before that. In stoppage time, his decisive header cleared one final Villa free-kick. It was a fitting end.
Luke Shaw is a composed presence alongside Lindelof in defence, slotting into the Lisandro Martinez role, but the converted left-back needs someone next to him who can dominate. Lindelof took on that responsibility. In doing so, he has proved a few people wrong.
Manchester United head to top-four rivals Brighton on Thursday next
Ten Hag's side then face West Ham on Sunday