The Red Devils' Champions League hopes look more solid than ever as they brushed aside the Villans at Old Trafford, the Spanish midfielder scoring at the end of each halfManchester United put eight points between themselves and Liverpool as they saw off Aston Villa 3-1 on Saturday, Ander Herrera scoring twice.
Their top-four ambitions boosted by Arsenal's win against the Reds earlier in the day, the Red Devils consolidated their position with a largely comfortable victory at Old Trafford.
Herrera made the breakthrough for Louis van Gaal's side shortly before half-time, his low drive getting the reward that their domination of the game deserved.
A delightful finish into the top-left corner by Wayne Rooney with 10 minutes to go looked to have sewn things up but Christian Benteke's effort almost immediately thereafter went through David de Gea to keep United on their toes.
The win was confirmed in stoppage time, however, when Herrera was fed by Rooney to slide home his second of the afternoon.
|VIEW FROM OLD TRAFFORD
|By Tom Maston
Manchester United eventually got the job done with what was a patient, if not spectacular, display. They move eight points clear of Liverpool and should now be assured of Champions League football.
They were not at the same level as during their victories over Tottenham and Brendan Rodgers's side but they did enough to see off a disciplined Aston Villa.
Ander Herrera will take the plaudits for his two goals and his performances continue to leave many questioning why he was not given more chances in the first half of the season - but, if United can maintain their current form for the remainder of the season, few will remember such choices by Louis van Gaal. He has finally worked out this team and is reaping the rewards.
Defeat for Villa leaves them without a victory over United in their last 12 attempts and Tim Sherwood's side are now just three points ahead of third-from-bottom QPR, who beat West Brom on Saturday and travel to Villa Park on Tuesday.
Van Gaal made only one change to his starting line-up, with Marcos Rojo replacing Chris Smalling at the heart of the United defence. On-loan Tom Cleverley was ineligible to face his parent club so Carlos Sanchez came into the Villa side. Matt Lowton and Andreas Weimann replaced Leandro Bacuna and Scott Sinclair.
United made a blistering start and Rooney was furious with referee Roger East for failing to award an early penalty when he appeared to be brought down by Ciaran Clark.
Villa were struggling to live with the home side's intensity and Juan Mata's goalbound shot was well blocked by Clark after Ashley Young had tormented his former club with a great run down the left.
Rojo almost marked his recall with a goal 23 minutes in but the Argentina international's long-range strike was brilliantly tipped over the crossbar by the agile Brad Guzan.
Villa defended resolutely but it came as no surprise when they fell behind two minutes before half-time courtesy of a well-worked goal from Herrera. The Spanish midfielder was left unmarked in the penalty area and punished Villa by drilling into the far corner with his left foot after Daley Blind had cut the ball back from the byeline.
Marouane Fellaini ought to have doubled United's lead just after the hour but the unmarked Belgian midfielder headed the ball down into the ground and Guzan palmed the effort behind.
Rooney did give them breathing space 11 minutes from time, though, sticking out his left leg to control substitute Angel Di Maria's cross before swivelling to fire into the top corner of the net with his right boot.
United had barely finished celebrating when they were caught napping from a corner and Benteke fired under David de Gea, who will not want to see a replay of his attempted save.
But any hopes of Villa snatching a point were ended when Herrera swept a shot home from the edge of the area.