The verdict from the Premier League trial at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is in: a unanimous win for the defence. 

Tottenham against Leeds United – Mourinho-ball versus Bielsa-ball – was set up to be an eye-catching case involving two coaches determined to succeed by their own methods, backed up by a mountain of evidence from previous roles.

Leeds, who have understandably become a favourite for the neutrals since returning to the top flight, controlled possession and had plenty of attempts in the early kick-off on Saturday – 18 in total (albeit only five on target). They made 583 passes as a team, while four of their line-up were successful with more pass attempts than Tottenham's top distributor, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. 

However, Marcelo Bielsa's unwavering desire to play out at all costs – to pass, pass, then pass again, no matter how precarious the situation – saw Leeds become the chief architects of their own downfall. 

Jose Mourinho, of course, had Spurs set up perfectly to pounce.

If these teams visited an all-you-can-eat buffet, you sense Leeds would waste little time in attacking the complimentary bread plonked at the table before getting started. Spurs, in contrast, would resist getting involved in early carbohydrates, instead choosing to wait for the tastier options yet to come.

Both sides appeared hungry in the early going, but the game changed when Illan Meslier's wayward pass was picked off in the 27th minute, leading to the crucial opening goal. The goalkeeper's next task was to retrieve the ball from his net, Harry Kane having converted from the spot.

It was the sixth time Leeds have conceded a penalty this season – they only gave up three during the entirety of their promotion campaign from the Championship – perhaps an accepted consequence of Bielsa's risk-and-reward policy.

Tottenham had made a habit of squandering one-goal leads as of late – doing so away at Crystal Palace and Wolves – but there were no such concerns here, not once Son Heung-min had swept in a Kane cross to double the advantage before the break. 

After Son's 100th goal for the north London club, Toby Alderweireld just about headed in another early in the second half and, while Leeds' front-foot approach makes you feel there is no such thing as a lost cause, a comeback never materialised in the capital. 

Spurs scored three for the first time in 11 league games. They now have 29 goals in the competition this season – just one less than their opponents, branded the top-flight's great entertainers.

Mourinho had unsurprisingly bristled in a pre-match news conference when asked if it was important for his team to win with style.

"Nobody was saying that when Tottenham scored six goals against Manchester United, nobody would say that if we beat Liverpool at Anfield 2-1," he said, knowing full well that no league table has ever included a column devoted entirely to points awarded for artistic merit. 

"I'm pragmatic, and in some matches Tottenham is winning 1-0 and doesn't produce enough in the second half to score more and concedes, that I understand. One thing is what you do and one thing is what you want to do."

Spurs certainly did exactly what Mourinho wanted against Leeds, who like Arsenal and Manchester City before them, fell prey to a method that is all about ambushing opponents when they are at their most vulnerable.

Mourinho has now won all five career meetings with Bielsa, though the Argentine coach will not be too concerned. Both will continue to do things their own way, no matter what anyone else may say.

Borussia Dortmund have had no contact from Arsenal over a potential move for Julian Brandt.

The Gunners are looking for midfield reinforcements in the January transfer window and reports in Germany suggest Brandt is one option.

Arsenal technical director Edu craves creativity in the centre of the pitch, with Mikel Arteta's side having fashioned just 120 chances in the Premier League this season, more only than Sheffield United, Newcastle United, Burnley and West Brom.

Brandt would appear to provide that spark, having played a key role in a Dortmund side who have forged 162 opportunities in 2020-21 to lead the Bundesliga in this regard.

The Germany midfielder has accounted 18 of those key passes, ranking third for BVB behind Raphael Guerreiro (26) and Jadon Sancho (22). Left-back Kieran Tierney, with 17 chances, is Arsenal's top creator.

If Brandt is to move this month, though, Dortmund are still waiting to hear more - according to Michael Zorc, their sporting director.

"I read that, too," Zorc said of the Arsenal rumours. "I cannot say more about that. Nobody has contacted us. There is nothing on the table yet or even in the fax machine."

Discussing the January window in general, Zorc added: "We don't have any big plans right now.

"However, my years of activity have taught me that, at the beginning of the transfer window, I don't rule out anything."

Speaking on Saturday, Zorc was also asked about the troubles of rivals Schalke, who are bottom of the Bundesliga and winless in 29 matches, just two shy of Tasmania Berlin's all-time top-flight record.

"We have our own problems, in somewhat higher realms than Schalke," the Dortmund chief said.

"Basically, I would like Schalke to stay in the league. The traditional competition in this region is good for us all. We want that for next year as well."

Zorc was appearing alongside interim head coach Edin Terzic prior to Sunday's meeting with Wolfsburg.

Terzic and Dortmund will be without 16-year-old striker Youssoufa Moukoko but can welcome back Erling Haaland following a hamstring injury.

Haaland has averaged a goal every 65.1 minutes in the Bundesliga this season yet has not played since November and will not be rushed on his return.

"Erling is known for always being hungry," Terzic said. "So, we still have to be careful, slow it down a bit. But he makes a very good impression.

"Every team in the world depends on the player who has the last touch in front of the goal. Erling is extremely important to us - and not just because of his goals.

"He was missing, of course, but we tried to make up for it. Borussia Dortmund is not just Erling Haaland."

Wolfsburg's visit will be Edin Terzic's first home game in charge of Dortmund. Bert van Marwijk, in 2004, was the last BVB coach to lose on their home bow, although that also came against Wolfsburg.

Son Heung-min and Harry Kane are doing "special things" for Tottenham this season, Jose Mourinho said after they inspired Spurs to a 3-0 Premier League win over Leeds United.

Tottenham ended a run of four games without a win in the Premier League in comfortable fashion on Saturday, Son reaching a landmark in the process.

After Kane's penalty put Spurs ahead, Son doubled their advantage with his 100th goal for the club, the England international unsurprisingly the provider.

It marked the 13th time the pair have combined for a goal in the Premier League in 2020-21, tying a record in a single season.

Toby Alderweireld converted Son's corner to make it 3-0 early in the second half as Spurs moved within four points of Liverpool and Manchester United at the top.

Speaking to BT Sport, Mourinho said: "Of course, the understanding is good and against Leeds it was important to have that ability in attack.

"They stay man-to-man so if you stay static you give them an easy job. That movement of Harry Kane and Sonny in the finishing positions fit well.

"I think in the Premier League there are many good players everywhere even in clubs where you don't believe they can have great players.

"But I have to say that Sonny and Harry are doing special things this season."

Between them, Son and Kane have scored 22 of Tottenham's 29 goals in the Premier League this campaign.

Asked if he wants other players to contribute more and take some of the burden off the pair, Mourinho replied: "I want goals coming from other players, I want players to feel they can express themselves in finishing areas.

"We had other players in positions to score, we had players from other positions in finishing points."

Son said of his landmark: "I'm very happy and grateful for my team-mates. I am not doing it alone – I need a lot of help for this big achievement.

"To score 100 goals with one team is a big thing. I'm very proud. Good way to start the new year."

Of his partnership with Kane, he added: "We're working hard and working on it for a long time.

"I am a bit sad I couldn't give an assist to 'H'. He knew I was there. Sometimes it is telepathic, sometimes we talk about it."

Son Heung-min reached a century of goals for Tottenham as Jose Mourinho's side boosted their Premier League title hopes with a comfortable 3-0 win over Leeds United.

The postponement of Wednesday's scheduled clash with Fulham because of coronavirus concerns left Spurs seven points adrift of Liverpool and Manchester United.

Mourinho's men had been without a win in four league games going into Saturday's home clash with the division's fourth-highest scorers, but it was the hosts who were clinical in going third and cutting the gap to four points.

A penalty from Kane and Son's landmark goal had Spurs 2-0 up at half-time and Toby Alderweireld's first league goal since netting against Arsenal in July gave Leeds too much of a mountain to climb, the only blemish on Tottenham's victory a sending off for Matt Doherty in injury time after he committed a second bookable offence.

Tottenham had looked vulnerable to their free-scoring opponents for much of an unexpectedly low-key first half, which was brought to life in the 37th minute when Ezgjan Alioski tripped Steven Bergwijn just inside the area.

Kane made no mistake in smashing the subsequent penalty down the middle to put Spurs into a lead that should have been doubled when Bergwijn collected a Ben Davies pull-back, only to fire high, wide and not very handsome.

But, having previously provided some cause for concern when both went down with apparent knocks, Kane and Son shrugged off any lingering issues to combine for the latter's 100th goal for Spurs and make it 2-0.

Son coolly stroked home at the near post after a low cross from Kane, who took his tally for goal involvements for the season to 20, as many as he had in the whole of the 2019-20 campaign.

And it was South Korea international's corner that saw Spurs take complete command as Alderweireld met his near-post corner with a header that was too hot for Illan Meslier to handle.

Meslier stopped Bergwijn and Kane from making the scoreline even more emphatic, while Leeds' energy at the other end was for nought as Spurs claimed a deserved clean sheet despite Doherty seeing red for a needless foul on Pablo Hernandez.

What does it mean? Spurs blunt Leeds to stay in the mix

Leeds had previously not failed to score since a November 22 stalemate with Arsenal, however, they were second best in all areas of the pitch in north London. 

Another slip-up for Tottenham would have been a huge dent to their title aspirations, but they scored three for the first time in 11 Premier League games to stay firmly in contention.

Kane and Son partnership again pays dividends

Son's 100th goal for the club marked the 13th time in 2020-21 that he and Kane have combined, a joint-record in a single season in the Premier League.

After his assist for Alderweireld, Son has 17 goal involvements in his last 14 top-flight appearances (12 goals, 5 assists).

Abject Alioski

Leeds have conceded six penalties this season having given away three in the entirety of the previous campaign in the Championship. It was the low point of a bad day for left-back Alioski, who conceded three fouls and won 37.5 per cent of his duels before being substituted in the 64th minute.

What's next?

Tottenham have an EFL Cup semi-final with Brentford on Tuesday before facing non-league Marine in the FA Cup third round next Sunday, when Leeds start their quest for silverware at Crawley Town.

Son Heung-min scored his 100th goal for Tottenham in all competitions as he netted against Leeds United, with Harry Kane the provider once again.

The South Korea forward, who moved to north London in 2015, has been in sensational form in 2020-21, and moved onto 99 Spurs goals with a cool finish on the break at Liverpool in December.

Son drew a blank in his next three outings, failing to find the target as Spurs went down 2-0 to Leicester City, before he had a goal disallowed in an EFL Cup win at Stoke City and then only managed one attempt at goal in a 1-1 draw with Wolves on December 27.

However, after Wednesday's scheduled game with Fulham was postponed, his landmark effort came against Leeds on Saturday.

Kane – who has now assisted nine of Son's 12 Premier League goals this term – whipped in a brilliant cross from the right, which his strike partner swept home first time.

Son's strike put Spurs 2-0 up just before half-time, with Kane's penalty having put Jose Mourinho's men ahead.

With 169 goals to his name, Kane is the only Spurs payer to have netted more goals than Son since September 2015.

It was also the 13th time Kane and Son have combined for a goal this season, which is a joint-record in a single Premier League campaign.

Son has scored 65 of his 100 Spurs goals in the Premier League – 35 coming from his right foot, 25 from his left, and the remainder with his head.

The former Bayer Leverkusen forward has also supplemented that tally with a further 33 assists, while he has scored 15 times in the FA Cup and EFL Cup.

Fulham have had a second successive Premier League match postponed after the latest round of coronavirus testing returned more positive results.

The Premier League postponed Fulham's clash with Tottenham, much to the frustration of Jose Mourinho, a matter of hours before kick-off on Wednesday after several members of Scott Parker's squad tested positive for the virus.

Parker – who himself has had to self-isolate recently – confirmed on Friday that he was preparing as normal for Sunday's planned away game with Burnley even though he had several players missing.

However, the trip to Turf Moor has now been called off to add further disruption to the Premier League season, with organisers having insisted the competition will continue despite rising rates of infection around the United Kingdom and talk of a possible "circuit breaker" suspension of competitive football in England.

With most regions of the country under strict lockdown measures, the Premier League confirmed 18 players or staff members had tested positive this week.

In a statement on Saturday, Fulham said: "Following further new positive results returned from the most recent COVID-19 tests, the club can confirm that this Sunday's away fixture at Burnley has been postponed after discussions with the Premier League and advice from medical teams.

"Those who tested positive are self-isolating in line with UK Government and Premier League guidance.

"The welfare of our players, staff and their families continue to be of paramount importance, and we wish those who have tested positive a safe and speedy recovery."

It is the fourth Premier League match to have been postponed this season due to coronavirus infections. Early in December, Newcastle United and Aston Villa had their match called off, while on Monday, Manchester City requested that their clash with Everton be pushed back after a further three players tested positive.

Pep Guardiola's team were able to return to training, however, after recording no further positive cases, and their game with Chelsea on Sunday is set to go ahead.

Real Madrid are reportedly close to agreeing a deal with David Alaba, while Manchester United are expecting the asking price for Jadon Sancho to drop.

Alaba, 28, is set to leave Bayern Munich with his contract expiring at the end of the season.

The defender is free to speak to other clubs, and Madrid are making their move.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID CLOSE TO ALABA SIGNING

Real Madrid are close to landing Bayern Munich defender Alaba on a four-year deal, according to Marca.

Alaba is likely to have offers from multiple clubs after establishing himself as one of Europe's leading defenders.

The Austria international has won nine Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies with Bayern.

 

ROUND-UP

- With Jadon Sancho yet to hit top form for Borussia Dortmund this season, Manchester United may be able to land the attacker later this year. 90min reports United believe they can land Sancho for less than £100million (€112.7m) after not meeting Dortmund's valuation of £107m (€120m) in the close season.

- Lionel Messi's future remains a major talking point. Sport reports the Barcelona star – who is out of contract at the end of the campaign – will wait until the end of the season to decide between the LaLiga giants, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and MLS.

- Real Madrid are apparently eyeing a replacement for Marcelo. AS reports the LaLiga giants are tracking Sporting CP left-back Nuno Mendes, who is also linked to Liverpool, Manchester United, Juventus and PSG.

- Liverpool are also linked with centre-backs after long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, while potential exits have been mentioned. However, the Liverpool Echo reports the Premier League giants are not expecting any senior departures in January, which would mean Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi remain despite speculation over their futures.

We need to talk about Kevin. Because if you noticed something was different about Kevin De Bruyne this season, you were on the money.

The PFA players' player of the year, the FIFPro World XI star and the reigning Champions League midfielder of the season has been performing a modified role for Manchester City since David Silva departed.

And is it pure coincidence that in this phase of semi-transition, a goal-shy City have scored 3-0, 3-1 and 4-1 wins when starting without their Belgian playmaker, the man who supposedly makes them tick?

De Bruyne is a wonderful footballer, and laying on seven goals in 13 Premier League games this season attests to that, a strong follow-up already to last term's record-equalling 20 assists.

Supremely skilled with both feet, you feel he could play anywhere and be hugely influential.

But the right flank has been his established station, and this term there has been no such instinctive attraction to that side of the pitch.

De Bruyne is roaming, occupying positions to the left, right and centre as a number 10 in all but number (he remains in the 17 shirt). Opposition right-backs who were rarely closer than waving distance to the City maestro are seeing him encroach on their territory, an unwelcome pest few can handle.

Chelsea, his former club, will not be relishing the task of stopping De Bruyne when City visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

But does the 2020-21 deployment truly suit De Bruyne, and more pertinently does it suit City?

TOUCHED BY HIS PRESENCE

Touch maps from Opta show how evenly distributed De Bruyne's involvement has been in this Premier League campaign.

He's here, there and in fact he's everywhere across the attacking midfield zones, and it is hard not to think that is to cover for the loss of the creativity previously provided by close-season departee David Silva, a player whose much-missed promptings were helping to thrust Real Sociedad towards the front of the LaLiga leading pack until injury struck in November.

In 14 Premier League games this season, City have created 166 chances, an average of almost 11.9 per game, but last term they ran up 583 across 38 games, marginally above 15.3 each match.

De Bruyne's chance creation rate has hardly nosedived, but it has slipped from one every 20.6 minutes in 2019-20 to one every 26.2 minutes this season.

His total of 42 chances created in the Premier League so far (31 open play, 11 set-play) far outstrips team-mates, with Riyad Mahrez next on the list with 23 carved out, followed by full-back Joao Cancelo who has teed up 22 opportunities.

Bernardo Silva was creating chances at a rate of one every 39.8 minutes last term but that has crashed to one every 138.5 minutes in 2020-21, while Raheem Sterling has gone the same way, a slight fall from one every 55.4 minutes to one each 64.1 minutes.

Mahrez is making chances at one every 33.4 minutes this season compared to 32.3 last term, while Phil Foden, long touted as the natural successor to David Silva, has a rate of a one every 84.2 minutes, down from per 49.6 minutes.

Could De Bruyne be inadvertently cramping the style of his team-mates as he spreads his wings across the pitch, inevitably a magnet for the ball?

A VIRTUOSO IN NEED OF A BACKING BAND

De Bruyne has missed just one Premier League game this season, the home clash with Arsenal back in October that City won 1-0 thanks to a Sterling strike.

There was little to catch the eye in the chances created (11) or shots (13) columns that day, but City's attacking midfielders and forwards were noticeably less bunched over the 90 minutes that day than was the case in their Etihad Stadium clash with Newcastle last time out.

For that December 26 fixture, in which De Bruyne played, his average position was tucked in just behind Sterling, with Ferran Torres and Bernardo Silva close at hand.

City won 2-0, but the average position map points to limited midfield width. A little social distancing to ease congestion between the front quartet, as was the case in the Arsenal game, could be in order.

Despite having De Bruyne on board, City created just a modest 10 chances and had 11 shots against Newcastle. Seven of those opportunities were defined as 'big chances', though, a season-high for City, so perhaps they are belatedly creating the right quality of opening with their new shape, if not the quantity. Or perhaps Newcastle are ripe for that sort of thing.

While De Bruyne continues in his virtuoso way and can clearly be devastating anywhere across the midfield, the likes of Bernardo Silva and Foden must prompt more frequently. They might be encouraged to do so if City's strikers were putting away chances with a higher degree of efficacy. It is a two-way road.

WHAT ABOUT THE THUMPINGS WITHOUT DE BRUYNE?

It might be doing De Bruyne a disservice to read too much into City piling on the goals without him, looking at the 3-1 home win over Porto, which he missed with a muscle injury, and the 3-0 box-ticking exercise that was Marseille in Manchester for City's final Champions League group game.

Arsenal were then under-strength and hopelessly out of form before the 4-1 EFL Cup trouncing they suffered at City's hands, on December 22.

What the data tells us from City's season is that De Bruyne's levels remain extraordinary, but he is now a roving beacon of midfield genius rather than a master of one position.

With this tactical switch clearly coming at the behest of Pep Guardiola, it falls to the City manager to examine the evidence of its impact and make the strategy and selection tweaks that could still make it effective.

Failing that, Guardiola could revert to Plan A.

Many a wide player has coveted a role further infield, and it has not always come for the betterment of the team. Giving De Bruyne his old job back may be City's easiest get-out.

Roy Hodgson is unsurprised by the transfer speculation around Wilfried Zaha, but he expects the star to stay at Crystal Palace.

Zaha is again linked with a move away from Palace amid reported interest from Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.

The 28-year-old has scored eight goals and provided two assists in 14 Premier League games this season.

Palace manager Hodgson said he had grown used to talk about Zaha, who is contracted at the club until 2023.

"It's pure speculation. There's been so much speculation regarding Wilf over the years that these days I tend to let those concerns just disappear, as they often do," he told a news conference.

"Wilf's good, there's no doubt about that, it doesn't surprise me that there would be clubs out there that would like to sign him, but a lot of things have to be in place before a player leaves a club and joins a new one.

"I'm just happy at the moment that Wilf is playing as he is, showing the discipline, the concentration, his passion for football and for the club that he's been showing. I just work on the basis that until I'm given a reason otherwise I expect that to keep going."

Of players to have scored at least five Premier League goals this season, Zaha's big chance conversion percentage of 62.5 ranks eighth – slightly better than the likes of Jamie Vardy (61.1) and Harry Kane (60).

Palace are 15th in the table ahead of hosting Sheffield United on Saturday.

Frank Lampard believes it is only a matter of time before Timo Werner finds goalscoring form as he backed the Chelsea forward.

Werner last scored for Chelsea on November 7 and the Germany international – signed from RB Leipzig for a reported £47.5million in June – has netted just four times in 16 Premier League games.

But the 24-year-old was again backed by head coach Lampard, whose side host Manchester City on Sunday.

"In terms of scoring goals, I always found – and I'm not talking for Timo here – that every player goes through tough times in front of goal," he told reporters.

"The beauty is that he has been getting chances, because that is definitely a positive, we know that. I found work on the training ground to be the only way to turn that, simple work on the training ground and repetition of finishing, which Timo is doing now.

"When you work like that, it is a matter of time because his natural attributes will get him in front of goal and get him away from defenders and will get him those chances again.

"If his confidence comes down from missing a couple, that is only natural. It is my job to help him with his confidence and be positive and push in a positive direction and I feel the goals will come."

Werner has converted just three of his 11 big chances in the Premier League this season.

Of players who have had at least 10 big chances, that conversion rate (27.3) ranks second lowest, ahead of only Burnley striker Chris Wood (14.3).

Lampard's side have also endured a tough run, winning just one of their past five league games to sit fifth in the table, seven points behind Liverpool and Manchester United.

But the former England international said he was embracing the pressure that came with a dip in form.

"I enjoy pressure. If I didn't, I wouldn't have got back into this. I would have walked away at the first chance and that's something I'd never do," Lampard said.

"That doesn't mean you're as happy as when you're on that 16-game unbeaten run and that's normal. But it does make me focus absolutely. You learn more in defeat and tough moments.

"It's head down time. Head down and work. And not consider the table too much. We know we're there or thereabouts."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer "cannot see any obstacles" to Amad Diallo joining Manchester United from Atalanta soon.

United announced in October they had reached an agreement with the Serie A side for the future transfer of the winger in a reported £37.2million deal.

Diallo, 18, has featured just twice for Atalanta this season, and his move to United has been expected to be completed in January.

After a 2-1 win over Aston Villa on Friday, United manager Solskjaer confirmed a move was close.

"Amad, we've had all the paperwork, or rather we are waiting for all the paperwork. I can't see any obstacles really," he told a news conference.

"Hopefully not too long, he will be with us. Very excited about bringing him in. I think he's shown a few times his qualities but he has to learn to play in England. That's a different way of football, so we'll give him time to develop and impress."

United moved level on points with leaders and reigning champions Liverpool after their win over Villa.

And Solskjaer said he was not expecting too much movement from the club during the January transfer window.

"Apart from that [Diallo], I'm not really giving you too much with what we are going to do with players," he said.

"We are always working long term and any signings will be long term."

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta will wait until the end of the January transfer window to decide if Mesut Ozil will be part of his squad. 

Ozil, 32, was left off Arsenal's Premier League list in October, casting further doubt over his future with his contract expiring at season's end. 

Arteta offered no guarantees of a return for Ozil, saying he would make a decision when the window closes on February 1. 

"We will see what happens in the transfer window and we will answer that at the end," he told a news conference.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos was also left out of Arsenal's Premier League squad, with the defender's contract also nearing an end. 

Arteta, whose side are 13th in the table ahead of Saturday's trip to West Brom, said it was up to players to decide their own futures. 

"You have to respect the players' contracts. What you can do, as I said before, is try to be open with them and tell them your intentions, the role that they have in the team and why that is," he said. 

"They are entitled to make a decision in their lives because they have a contract here. 

"Some would like to move because they are not playing and some would like to stay. And, at the end of the day, that's something that we cannot decide."

Bruno Fernandes believes a confident Paul Pogba can keep on getting better after the duo were influential in Manchester United's home win over Aston Villa.

The Red Devils claimed the lead when Anthony Martial scored just prior to half-time, only for the visitors to equalise after the break through Bertrand Traore.

However, United went back ahead when the impressive Pogba – who had four shots and created two chances, as well as having the most touches (69) for the hosts – was fouled inside the penalty area.

Fernandes duly converted from the spot – his ninth penalty in the Premier League since February 2020 – and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side held firm under intense late pressure, securing the three points that moves them level with Liverpool at the top of the table.

"I think today Paul was top, the first goal he makes a good skill. We all know the qualities he has, it's not in doubt," Fernandes told MUTV about his team-mate.

"We know he can play, he can help us, he can play really well and today he did it. He was involved in both goals, with the penalty he covered the ball and went away from the players.

"He will give more and more with the confidence coming in every game."

United sit behind the reigning champions on goal difference, though Liverpool can move clear again when they visit Southampton on Monday.

Still, victory over Villa extends United's unbeaten league run to 10 games, while they have now won three on the spin at home in the competition having struggled previously this season at Old Trafford.

For Fernandes, these are all promising signs for the future, though the Portugal international insists there are still areas to improve in the remainder of the campaign.

"We are building something important, most important for us is building a team and a group of players who take care of each other," Fernandes said.

"In the stands, in the last two or three minutes, everyone was shouting for us. Everyone wants the three points and that win.

"It was tough, we have to learn from here and from the Leicester game [which ended in a 2-2 draw]. We have to do better, we had situations to close the game, we have to do that."

Fernandes has now contributed 19 goals and 14 assists in his first 30 Premier League appearances for United, who host neighbours Manchester City next in the EFL Cup.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes this season's Premier League title race will be "so tight”, though he is not getting carried away after Manchester United moved level with Liverpool at the top. 

United defeated Aston Villa 2-1 at Old Trafford on Friday, remaining second behind the defending champions only due to their inferior goal difference. 

It was a 10th straight league match without defeat for Solskjaer's side, who seized the opportunity presented to them by Liverpool's goalless draw at Newcastle United on Wednesday. 

Liverpool can pull clear again at Southampton on Monday, with United's game in hand against Burnley to come later in January, but Solskjaer is expecting plenty more twists and turns before the campaign is out. 

"We've improved, we're getting better," the manager told Sky Sports. "The league – and the season – is going to be so tight. 

"There are going to be different and difficult games, strange results, we've just got to keep working and improving as a team. 

"Since Project Restart [late last season], we've been a very consistent team. 

"Every time you win a game, you take one step further. It's three points in total, you've just got to accumulate them. 

"The first game is just as important as the last game of the season - they all count the same." 

With Anthony Martial's opener cancelled out by Bertrand Traore, it again fell to Bruno Fernandes to hit the winner from the penalty spot against Villa, who are winless in 16 league meetings with United.

The Red Devils have lost just three of their 30 league matches since the 2020 signing of Fernandes, who has been involved in 33 goals in this time (19 goals, 14 assists). 

In Premier League history, only Andrew Cole (37 involvements - 28 goals, nine assists) has had a greater impact from his first 30 games in the competition. 

But United were clinging on in the closing stages, with Eric Bailly - who made a game-high six clearances - lunging into a vital stoppage-time block in front of goal, to leave Solskjaer a little concerned about his team's inability to close out games when ahead. 

"To be fair, I didn't enjoy the last 10 minutes that much – we should have seen the game out in a better way," he said, having seen United finish with just 48.9 per cent of the possession. 

"It seemed like it was a cup final, or the last game of the season. We need to learn how to play out games better when we're in the lead. We've shown that when we're chasing a goal, we're capable of doing that. 

"We created chances. It was always going to be a physical game. We knew that they'd improved massively, and they gave us some challenges. 

"There were a few times in that box when you were a bit worried. We didn't stop the crosses well enough, because when they put crosses in, they were always dangerous. 

"But we made some fantastic blocks, some saves, so I'm delighted with the three points."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised Paul Pogba after the midfielder helped overcome Aston Villa - a result that moves Manchester United level on points with Liverpool at the top of the table.

United started 2021 as they ended the previous year - with a hard-fought home victory - as they defeated Villa 2-1 at Old Trafford, in the process extending their unbeaten run in the Premier League to 10 games.

Marcus Rashford had struck in added time to see off Wolves on December 29, and while they did not leave it so late this time, the Red Devils were still made to work hard.

Solskjaer felt Pogba's ability on the ball helped repel a physical Villa team, the France international impressing again in the United midfield as he continues to improve after recovering from coronavirus.

"He's getting better and better, fitter and fitter. I think he played well today," Solskjaer said to Sky Sports about Pogba, who attempted more passes and more passes in the opposing team's half than any other home player.

"They are a physical side, there were loads of challenges, one against one situations. Paul's one of these boys that can hold players off, get hold of it for us.

"But, not just Paul, we were too keen to play the killer pass. We knew they were going to drop off, then there are other spaces in behind we should have used."

Pogba had the most number of touches for United (69), while also winning 52.6 per cent of his 19 total duels.

The 27-year-old - whose long-term future at the club remains unclear - was fouled twice during the game, one of those occasions leading to the penalty that Bruno Fernandes converted in the second half, seeing the hosts reclaim the lead.

Anthony Martial had put them ahead earlier in the contest, scoring just his second league goal of a campaign disrupted by both injuries and a three-game suspension.

Solskjaer hopes the French forward - who has now scored on all seven days of the week in the Premier League - can build on his performance.

"He's had chances all season, maybe his confidence has had a bit of a knock earlier with the sending off, and some niggles he's had.

"Now he's firing, getting better and better."

United are back in action on Wednesday, hosting neighbours Manchester City in the last four of the EFL Cup. 

They are next on duty in the league on January 12, travelling to take on Burnley five days before a huge trip to defending champions Liverpool.

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