Manchester United 4 Aston Villa 0

Old Trafford, Manchester
6th December 2003

With rivals Chelsea and arsenal both drawing, Manchester United closed the gap at the top to just two points, with a convincing win over the Midlands team.

Aston Villa had enough heart, but were ultimately not good enough to take the reds on. Having gone close to getting points against both Arsenal and Chelsea, Villa were expected to push united to the very end, but in reality, the game was over after just 40 minutes.

Van Nistelrooy was in typically clinical form, finishing the match with two goals. The first came from an inspired one-two with Kleberson. Van Nistelrooy received the ball on the edge of the area and played the ball into Kleberson's path. The Brazilian took one touch to take the ball away from the defenders, before sending the ball back to Ruud, who had been left unmarked and was able to slot the ball home to kill any Villa hopes, after just 16 minutes.

On the stroke of half-time, after Manchester had dominated much of the possession in the first half, the Dutchman struck again. Ronaldo's corner fell to Giggs at the back-post. His low cross into the six-yard box fell to Ruud, who took one touch to stun the ball, and another to play it past Sorensen.

Fergie admits that United went down a gear in the second half, with a lack of attacking impetus. Ronaldo was still raiding down the right-wing, but the team failed to break the Villains down. Villa also failed to have a meaningful attack.

Paul Scholes came on with half-an-hour to go, playing his first game for two months. He is the first of three key players to make his comeback, with Wes Brown and Ole Solskjaer not far behind, and expected to play in the New Year.

Van Nistelrooy was taken off with 20 to go, rested ready for the Champions' League clash with Stuttgart and the Derby next Saturday. Having been substituted on, Diego did more than enough to warrant his place in the team.

The first of his two goals, which came within two minutes of each other, was a long left-footed drive into the far corner. Sorensen could get nowhere near the ball, and was left ruing his luck for the third time that afternoon.

His second goal came from good work by Kleberson. The Brazilian cup-winner flicked the ball into Forlan's path with a delicate back-heel. Forlan's step-over was enough to send the defender the wrong way, leaving him one-on-one with the 'keeper. His left footed shot skidded in to the bottom left corner.

The reds may well have been flattered with the score-line, but the game was just what Sir Alex needed after his heart-scare in the midweek. There was barely any pressure on the team all game, and as soon as Van Nistelrooy had scored his second, Fergie was able to sit back and relax.

Man Utd: Howard, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Fortune, Ronaldo, Phil Neville (Bellion 59), Keane, Kleberson, Giggs (Scholes 59), van Nistelrooy (Forlan 72).

Subs not used: Carroll, O'Shea.

Aston Villa: Sorensen, Delaney, Mellberg, Dublin, Samuel, McCann, Hendrie, Barry, Whittingham (Hitzlsperger 72), Angel (Allback 64), Vassell.

Subs not used: Postma, De la Cruz, Ridgewell.

Booked: Hendrie.

Attendance: 67,621.

Referee: S Dunn (Gloucestershire).