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England Soccer Betting

FA Cup wins don't count in the Premier League, but Manchester United took another large step toward the Premiership title with Sunday's 2-1 victory over Aston Villa in the FA Cup Third Round.

Why? Henrik Larsson.

The old Swedish striker made his debut for Man Utd after arriving from Helsingborg on loan and soon showed why Sir Alex Ferguson has been so happy with his arrival.

Larsson fit right into the Man United attack, combining with Wayne Rooney as if they had been playing together for years, and netting his first goal for the team in the 55th minute with a wonderful piece of skill.

"This was a real Henrik goal. There was no drawback. He guided the ball into the corner of the net," said Ferguson. "His decision-making and movement were terrific. That is the thing that sticks out in my mind.

"He will be a great asset to us, I have no doubt about that."

With Louis Saha out for a while with a groin strain and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer only recently back from an injury himself, Larsson's appearance is well timed to give Man United a improvement going into the second half of the year. He gets another boost against Aston Villa on Saturday back in Premiership action; the bookies list Manchester United at 1.20 bet odds.

At 35 years old, Larsson isn't as fast as he used to be, but he has always depended on guile to cause other teams problems.

Maybe he wasted a lot of his career at Celtic - the Scottish Premier League perhaps never deserved his talent - but Larsson demonstrated what he could do on the big stage in a brief period with Barcelona that ended last summer.

It was his effort in the Champions League final - when he came off the bench to bring the game to Barcelona's favour against Arsenal - that convinced Ferguson to try and sign him.

Whether Larsson can play like he did on Sunday every week remains an open question. He was well rested since this is the Swedish off-season, and pounced on Aston Villa's young defence, but Man United have plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

The loan spell might now be extended until the end of the season after Helsingborg top man Sten-Inge Fredin said he wouldn'tblock such a move.

"If he wants to stay, then we will open that discussion with Manchester United. We will not stand in his way," said Fredin.

Larsson, speaking after Sunday's match, said he still intended to be back in Sweden for the start of the Allsvenskan season, but if he does enough to help Man Utd pull further away in the EPL title race, surely he will want to stay around and earn his champions medal.

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