Gary Neville says Manchester United are “still not great” despite continuing their winning run at Aston Villa, while Roy Keane says Erik ten Hag’s side have “got away with it” in their recent results.
Scott McTominay’s late header in the 2-1 victory made it five wins and one draw from six matches in all competitions in 2024, with United now five points behind fifth-placed Villa in a major boost to their Champions League hopes.
Sky Sports pundit Neville says United do have what it takes to finish above Villa in fifth, with Tottenham a point ahead of Unai Emery’s side in fourth, but has played down the recent revival.
“They can claw it back,” said Neville about United’s Champions League ambitions. “They’ve been appalling in the first half of the season. They’ve lost so many matches it’s untrue.
“If they keep their players fit, which is a big question mark because it looks like they’ve lost another two with [Lisandro] Martinez and [Luke] Shaw in the past week, they have got a chance. Because of course they are better when they have their strength in their team. All teams are when they have their players back.
“The front three look more settled with [Marcus] Rashford, [Alejandro] Garnacho and [Rasmus] Hojlund with Bruno Fernandes in behind.
“They’re better than they were but they’re still not great.
“They concede so many chances, they don’t really have any patterns, they don’t control games or keep possession better than the other teams. But they do have players who can win matches. They are an odd bunch, I’ve said that for a few years, they play in moments during matches.”
Meanwhile, Keane says Tottenham and Villa will be “getting worried” about United picking up results, but adds that Ten Hag’s forwards are getting their defenders “out of jail”.
“United still gave up loads of chances, the problems are still there for them,” Keane said. “They got away with it today, because the attacking players are scoring goals.
“But there’s no surprise the amount of chances they give up, they do it every week. They’ve got away with it in three or four weeks. Their attacking players are getting them out of jail.
“The key for me is the attacking players are scoring goals. And what they’ve got, which Villa don’t is that momentum.
“If you’re in the Spurs and Villa dressing room and you see Man Utd coming up behind you, you’re going to be worried. History will play a part, they’ve got the goals.”
Merson: Hojlund will be a superstar
Amongst the goals is United striker Hojlund, who has scored once in each of his last five Premier League games since Boxing Day.
Fellow Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson says the Danish forward, who failed to score a Premier League goal before Christmas in his debut season, is going to be a “superstar” after overcoming his early United struggles.
“I like him. He’s a young kid, 21 playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. If there was one thing you could bottle up in football, you ask anyone, it’s confidence,” he said.
“In those first 10 games, when he was going without a goal, he was snatching at everything. And he’s got it.
“If that ball [for Hojlund’s opening goal] at Villa comes in at the start of the season, he would’ve hit it as hard as he could. But he places it under the goalkeeper.
“He’s a good player, I think he will be a superstar.”
Asked about Hojlund’s improvement, Keane said: “He’s on fire, it took him a few months to get up to speed. He’s part of a settled team now and he’s got confidence.
“I believe every time he walks on the pitch, he thinks ‘I’m going to score a goal for Man Utd’. It’s a good return, considering the first few months he had. He’s showing good form.
“You look at the lack of strikers at Man Utd. So the manager has been forced to play him week in and week out.
“The fact he’s had to do that, and Ten Hag has had the option to take him out and give him a rest, is a big help.”
What’s next for Man Utd?
If Manchester United are to make up more ground on the Champions League-chasing teams, they will look at the next few matches with fondness, says Neville.
Ten Hag’s side go to Luton next Sunday, live on Sky Sports. Their next league away game after that is a daunting trip to title-chasing Manchester City, but around those games are home matches to bottom half clubs Fulham, Everton and Sheffield United.
“That’s a great run of fixtures. If you forget the Man City game, those six games… they don’t deserve anything if they don’t pick up anything against those teams.
“I wouldn’t be confident going to Luton next week, but them and Fulham [are winnable]. Every team gets beaten at the Etihad Stadium but then you have Everton and Sheffield United at home.
“In terms of the league games they’ve got, the four around the City game, you wouldn’t say they’re not favourable.”