Welbeck brace sets Man Utd back on track
Manchester United's English midfielder Tom Cleverley celebrates scoring the third goal during the English Premier League match against Aston Villa at Villa Park in Birmingham, central England on December 15, 2013
It took the champions to within 10 points of top-of-the-table Arsenal and ensured the continuation of Villa's poor home sequence against United, who they have not beaten at Villa Park since 1995.
Tom Cleverley also found the net early in the second half by finishing off a pass from Wayne Rooney, who was able to celebrate his 500th game in club football with a victory.
Aston Villa, who made Gabriel Agbonlahor their captain on his 300th appearance, started the game in promising fashion and forced several early chances.
United goalkeeper David De Gea had to save from Karim El Ahmadi and Marc Albrighton, who was making his first start for Villa since a loan spell at Championship side Wigan Athletic.
Albrighton then went close again, with De Gea making another stop from the winger after El Ahmadi had driven on from midfield.
But David Moyes's United, who had lost their last two league outings by 1-0 scorelines against Everton and Newcastle United, took the lead with their first attack of the game.
Rafael da Silva's 15th-minute cross was headed against the post by Adnan Januzaj and Welbeck reacted quickest to slot the rebound into an empty net.
Villa struggled to deal with the pace of Antonio Valencia down the visitors' right and it was the winger who set up the second just three minutes later as he beat Antonio Luna easily and crossed for Welbeck to convert his fourth goal of the campaign.
United's control of the game was evident and they could have extended their lead before half-time, with Rooney shooting just wide after being set up by more good work from Valencia.
Welbeck had a chance to complete his hat-trick as early as the 34rd minute, but he fired wide from Valencia's through ball.
However, it was clear that the confidence had returned to the champions and they continued to take the game to their hosts early in the second half.
A third goal arrived on 52 minutes as Rooney produced a slide-rule pass to play in Cleverley, who beat Brad Guzan at his near post for his first goal of the season.
United pressed for further goals and a Rooney free-kick from 25 yards just missed to Guzan's left.
But Villa started to create a few chances, with Yacouba Sylla blazing over from Christian Benteke's pass before Albrighton's drilled effort from the right was fisted away by De Gea.
United brought on former Villa winger Ashley Young and Darren Fletcher, who last played on December 26 last year due to a chronic bowel problem and was afforded a warm reception by the visiting fans.
Welbeck went close again when his attempted chip just went over the bar with Guzan out of his goal.
At the other end, De Gea pushed away an El Ahmadi free kick from 25 yards to preserve United's clean sheet and ensure that Villa's goalless sequence was extended to four matches.
United continued to search for further goals, with Cleverley's drive pushed away by Guzan before Fletcher came close to a dream goal with a header over from Young's corner a minute from time.