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Erik ten Hag: Man Utd manager says Bruno Fernandes captaincy critics are 'crazy'

Bruno Fernandes strengthened Manchester United's grip on Champions League qualification as his winner ended Aston Villa's 10-match unbeaten run; Old Trafford the scene of more protests against Glazer family ownership but Erik ten Hag adamant bond between players and fans remains strong

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Erik ten Hag complimented his Manchester United team for their composure and determination in their 1-0 win over Aston Villa at Old Trafford

Erik ten Hag has labelled the questioning of Bruno Fernandes' suitability to captain Manchester United as "crazy".

Fernandes' first-half strike earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday, as United consolidated their bid for a top-four finish in the Premier League.

Speaking after the win at Old Trafford, United boss Ten Hag sung the praises of his captain, saying: "He is so tough. A couple of weeks ago there were questions about his captaincy, which was crazy because he is such a big leader.

"He leads by example, gives so much energy to the team, so much desire and determination. If you want to win games and trophies, you need such players."

United's winning goal came after they exploited Aston Villa's high defensive line, with Fernandes firing in a deflected strike after Marcus Rashford had raced in behind and forced a save from goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

Ten Hag explained how Portugal international Fernandes is vital if such tactics are to succeed, adding: "You need players like Bruno to be successful because he can play in a deeper role with his passes.

"As a 10 we know what he can bring, but he's also a very good presser and knows the moments when to close down. He also knows when to track back and to close passing lines.

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"So even when our press gets beaten, he knows when to get back and then, of course, he can play between the lines and make passes. He has so many skills. It's a pleasure to work with players like him."

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Manchester United and Aston Villa

Ten Hag was also complimentary of Casemiro's performance, citing the Brazilian's influential leadership as key to United withstanding Villa's second-half fightback.

Asked if Casemiro had rekindled his best form against Villa after a dip in recent weeks, the Dutchman said: "In every season you will see no one is always playing brilliantly. He plays to such a high level.

"His suspensions maybe broke his rhythm but today it was the Casemiro we have all season. He brings so much organisation and composure and determination.

Casemiro closes down Jacob Ramsey
Image: Casemiro closes down Jacob Ramsey

"His leadership is so important for us because others go with him and sets the example. Especially in the second half, we saw a determined team with passion, a team who wanted to win more than the opponent."

The match came just two days after Sheikh Jassim and Sir Jim Ratcliffe submitted their third, and what are expected to be final, offers to buy United.

Other parties are interested in minority investment, and it was reported that Joel and Avram Glazer could remain stakeholders under one deal being proposed by Ratcliffe.

A group of United fans marched to Old Trafford in protest against the Glazers, with a giant banner reading 'Full Sale Only'.

Manchester United fans display banners protesting the club's ownership
Image: Manchester United fans display banners protesting against the club's ownership

Protestors' flares outside the ground also filled the air inside Old Trafford but many did not heed the call for an 18-minute boycott - a minute for each year of the Glazers' ownership.

Asked if background anger could make things harder for his side, Ten Hag said: "We felt really that the fans were behind us.

"So we have to focus to be successful because that's what the fans expect and they can expect. They have to rely on us, so we will focus on that.

"I'm sure when we keep performances like we do all season, the fans are behind us and there's lot of energy and I think a really strong bond between the fans and the players."

Emery: Man Utd worthy winners

Aston Villa head coach Unai Emery acknowledged that Manchester United were worthy winners.

"Today, a little bit disappointed," Emery said. "United deserved to win but at 1-0 you can, in 90 minutes, get in the box and score one goal. But we have to reduce the distance from them to us, to take more opportunities to win here. But I am happy in our process.

"In the first half today we did not play good, we did not feel good. In the second half, we improved but it was not enough. In the end, after we analyse this match, we can take more information but I think we can do better."

Villa are still in the European places but their advantage over Brighton is only two points and the Seagulls have three games in hand. On the other hand, there is still a chance Villa can finish above Liverpool or Tottenham - they play all three in their final three games.

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Unai Emery felt Aston Villa needed to show a stronger desire to overcome Manchester Utd but says he is still happy with how they have developed this season

"Firstly, we have to win our matches, we have to win points. Of course, there are other teams, Liverpool, Tottenham, Brighton and Brentford. We will have the possibility to win matches, but we are only going to think about the next match against Wolves.

"Brighton have [played] three matches less than us. It is not normal, the circumstances, but it is like that. We are going to play the last match against Brighton. If we get to this match with the possibility of playing in Europe, that would be fantastic.

"It is difficult if you go for top 10. It is really difficult if you go for the European places because you have to win, win and win. They are tough matches we are going to face but we are ready to do it and excited by the opportunity."

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