MANCHESTER, England — Wayne Rooney scored from an exquisitely executed volley as Manchester United beat struggling Aston Villa 3-1 on Saturday to enhance its chances of Champions League qualification.
The captain's eye-catching goal overshadowed two from Ander Herrera as United climbed into third place above Manchester City, which is at Crystal Palace on Monday.
United was leading through Herrera's first-half goal when Rooney used his outstretched left foot to bring down Angel Di Maria's cross and made a sharp turn before using his other boot to volley the ball into the net in the 79th minute.
"It was beautiful — and also the assist of Di Maria," United manager Louis van Gaal said. "He was not on the pitch long and he already has an assist. That's fantastic. It was his 10th assist this season today and he hasn't played all the game like Herrera did so it's a fantastic result."
United goalkeeper David de Gea made a rare mistake a minute later, allowing Christian Benteke's shot to go through his legs, but Herrera sidefooted in the third in stoppage time.
"Ander has a very good kicking technique and he should only be more composed," Van Gaal said. "I said to him, 'You have to control the ball before you shoot.' I said that to him again in yesterday's training session, and then I kissed him at halftime because he had controlled the ball for the first time in his life and then he shot."
United will be increasingly hopeful of finishing in the top four again after missing out on the Champions League this season. Van Gaal's side is eight points clear of fifth-place Liverpool, which lost 4-1 at Arsenal.
Villa, on the other hand, will be concerned about its plight. Tim Sherwood's team is only three points clear of the relegation zone and will drop to fourth from bottom if Sunderland beats Newcastle on Sunday.
United thought it should have had a penalty in the sixth minute when Rooney tumbled to the turf after being pulled back by Ciaran Clark, but referee Roger East waved play on.
Rooney raged at the official, who controversially sent off Wes Brown instead of John O'Shea during Sunderland's defeat at Old Trafford in February.
Villa hit back on the break but Gabriel Agbonlahor could not finish despite a mixup between Phil Jones and De Gea.
It was to be Villa's only chance of the first half as United launched attack after attack.
Ashley Young, his every touch booed by the away fans, bamboozled Alan Hutton for the first of many times, but Juan Mata could not finish the pullback from the former Villa winger.
Marcos Rojo's blistering 30-yard drive was tipped over by goalkeeper Brad Guzan and Rooney's attempted over-head kick flew wide.
Then, one minute before the break, United took the deserved lead. Young slipped the ball to Daley Blind and he squared to Herrera, who took one touch before drilling a low half-volley past Guzan.
But the United States goalkeeper did well on the hour to tip Marouane Fellaini's header over.
Then within 10 minutes of Di Maria replacing Young he set up Rooney's goal.
The celebrations were cut short when Benteke's shot slid in under De Gea to pull one back for Villa, but Herrera made sure of the win in injury time.
Rooney won the ball and laid the ball off to Mata, who teed up Herrera and his fellow Spaniard netted from 18 yards.