Zat Knight was handed a big vote of confidence by Martin O'Neill - but the defender was also urged to take advantage of advances in sports science to learn how to cope with the movement of nippy strikers.
The 27-year-old centre-back has been told by O'Neill it is never too late to learn new tricks.
"Zat did very well on Saturday and his attitude in the reserves last week was really top class," the Aston Villa boss told the Birmingham Mail.
"He coped with the disappointment of missing out against Manchester United to play very well in the reserve game 48 hours later. "He will be aware that the competition at the club - despite the loss of Curtis Davies - will be something I want to intensify in the summer.
"He wants to improve his game.
"He wants to get sharper and better in terms to being able to cope with smaller, agile forwards playing in front of him such as Carlos Tevez playing little one-twos, and Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo running at you.
"He should be okay with the more straightforward centre-forward but all of us could learn from the smaller, agile forwards - even midfielders going with runners, it's hard work.
"There's the old adage of you never stop learning but I believe if players really want to improve their willingness and their agility then, with the advent of sports science in our game, the wherewithal is there in front of you."
O'Neill added: "We've got the technical expertise and the fitness coaches. Jim Henry is only too willing and if a player asked him at midnight to show him how to improve his movement, he'd be out there.
"We've got people willing to help and once the players want to do that, that's great.
"If you want to improve to the extent where you know you can match the movement of Manchester United's players, then the hard work to achieve it should be automatic. It's part of your job."