LONDON - Ander Herrera got a kiss from his manager Louis van Gaal after his goal late in the first half sent Manchester United towards a 3-1 Premier League victory over Aston Villa on Saturday.
The Spanish midfielder scored with a low finish in the 43rd minute and struck again near the end after a Wayne Rooney special to take his tally for the season to a healthy seven.
Dutchman Van Gaal was delighted with Herrera's improved composure when finishing, so much so that he rewarded him with a halftime show of affection. "(Ander) has a very good kicking technique and he should only be more composed," Van Gaal told the club's website. "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." Van Gaal, whose often quirky post-match interviews have been a feature of his first season at Old Trafford, was clearly in a good mood as his side moved above champions Manchester City for the first time this season.
With 62 points from 31 games, one less than second-placed Arsenal and five behind Chelsea, who were in later action, United are in a strong position to gain a top-four finish and return to the lucrative Champions League.
But despite a four-match winning sequence, Van Gaal said there is plenty of work to do - starting with a home derby against City next week. "I have heard that Southampton lost, Liverpool lost and now we have to wait for Tottenham Hotspur. But we already have a big gap," the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach said. "We can look up in the table. The next match is for the second position or the third, I think." "But we have to still play the first three (teams) in the league so it's still a rat race."