Danny Welbeck celebrates with his Manchester United
teammates after scoring against Aston Villa in the English Premier League, December 15. Reuters
Danny Welbeck had one of those games where he actually looked like a goalscoring striker, not just one of those forwards who work tirelessly for the team's cause without any real end product.
The result was a Manchester United performance much akin to last season, and quite a few before that, as the reigning English Premier League champions cruised to a 3-0 victory at Aston Villa.
Welbeck scored the first two goals in the space of four first half minutes to give United that prime start they have been sorely lacking, before Tom Cleverley netted one early in the second half, his first in a year, to put the issue beyond doubt.
The gap to Arsenal at the top of the table is still a yawning 10 points, but at least, for the first time in a while in the Premier League, there were a lot more smiles than frowning faces at the end of the 90 minutes.
In the second game of the day, Norwich City and Swansea City played out a 1-1 draw.
At Villa Park, Manchester United, reeling after consecutive league home defeats to Everton and Newcastle, found their groove in front of goal within 15 minutes, and there was no real looking back oh-god-will-we-be-able-to-maintain-the-lead from there, so symptomatic of United this season.
Once Welbeck put United into the lead, latching onto a rebound after Adnan Januzaj's header off a Rafael cross hit the post, it was cruise control against a lacklustre Villa side.
Three minutes after the opener, Welbeck, under pressure for goals in the absence of Robin Van Persie, completed his brace, smashing the ball from six yards off a perfect cross from Antonio Valencia down the right as Villa were cut open yet again.
The home side had decent possession in the first half, but there was little doubt about which team had the control as United looked more like the team that are actually trying to defend their title than the one that have looked mid-table more often than not.
Rooney and Welbeck came closer than a Gillette shave to bulge the lead to 3-0 in the first half, but Villa just about managed to keep the scoreline at 2-0 at halftime.
However, the game was signed, sealed and delivered seven minutes into the second half as Villa was the object of their own demise. The home side gave the ball away carelessly inside their own half, allowing Wayne Rooney, then to pick out a precisely weighted pass to Tom Cleverley, maligned and criticised no-end this season, with the United midfielder making no mistake with the finish, assuredly smoking the ball past Brad Guzan at the near post.
Villa were a little improved in the second half, but United were in we-can-easily-score-more-goals-if-we-really-put-our-minds-to-it mode as the away team eased to one of the easiest three points they have had all season, with the added positive of having midfielder Darren Fletcher back in action - the Scot came on as a substitute in the second half for his first appearance since Boxing Day last year.
At Carrow Road, Swansea got their noses in front after just 12 minutes. Sebastian Bassong failed to deal with a long hoof from Ashley Williams, with Nathan Dyer accepting the gift with glee, calmly flicking it over John Ruddy to make it 1-0.
Dyer would be stretchered off just before halftime, though, after seemingly hurting his ankle badly, with Alejandro Pozuelo coming in place of the speedy forward.
Williams kept Swansea's slender lead intact late in the first half, heading away a goal-bound effort, but Norwich would find their equaliser seconds before the break. Johan Elmander took down a long pass from Steven Whitaker before finding the in-form Gary Hooper, who struck a brilliant shot from 25 yards to make it 1-1.
The second half saw both sides have decent chances, with Norwich coming closest when Michael Turner hit the crossbar, but the score remained level and a share of the spoils it was.
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