Manchester United welcome Aston Villa to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon in the Premier League. United will be seeking to continue their home form this season and get all three points in the bag after failing to beat Tottenham Hotspur in the league on Thursday evening, drawing 2-2 from leading 2-0 at the end of the first half. noted sit in fourth place in the Premier League for the time being, six points clear of both Villa and Spurs with two games in hand over them.
Villa look set to push for European football next season with their league position, sitting a point above seventh placed Liverpool, who have a game in hand. It could be a good run for Villa if they are able to finish in a position to gain European football next season. United though have a foot in the UEFA Champions League next season and that will require them to win their next two or three matches to have a great chance of finishing in the top four this season.
Villa have seemingly turned a new leaf following the arrival of former Arsenal and Sevilla manager Unai Emery, who is definitely a much better fit for the club following the departure of Steven Gerrard earlier in the season. What he’s done at Villa has been largely positive, taking them from near the bottom of the Premier League to a position whereby they will be challenging for Europe next season – whether the UEFA Europa League or the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Shaw, Dalot;
Antony, Fernandes, Sancho;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea has the most clean sheets in the Premier League at this stage of the season despite United having games in hand over some of the teams above and below them.The Spanish goalkeeper has 14 clean sheets in the Premier League this season and will be seeking to push for the Golden Glove if he can. However, United’s fixtures will not be all that easy in the run in to the season so United will need to be at their best in each and every match they play.
It is expected that Jack Butland and Tom Heaton, when fit, will get some game time towards the end of the season but United will need to get their season concluded before that happens. United are six points clear inside the top four at this stage of the season with two games in hand and they will need to make them count. If United end up bottling the top four despite being within it for the majority of the season, it will be a massive blow for the club.
De Gea had a terrible match against Sevilla just over a week ago but stepped up against Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday at Wembley and helped United win 7-6 on penalties, despite making no saves in the shootout but he did throughout the match. De Gea is the best goalkeeper at the club right now, as Butland is untested this season. I would expect Ten Hag to keep him in goal until United managed to get into a position to finish their season on a high.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw
United will have to make do with their defensive situation with Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez out of action with the Argentinian out for the remainder of the season following surgery. Against Spurs on Thursday, Harry Maguire was out of action which left Luke Shaw to play as a central defender once again, which he did well. It was not the greatest result for United though, who were 2-0 up at half time and drew 2-2. Maguire could be back for this match.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot could play in the fullback positions against Villa – providing Shaw is needed in the central defensive role. I think that both Wan-Bissaka and Dalot are positive in both attack and defence and whilst it is not ideal, playing a sport with humans is not always going to be ideal. Wan-Bissaka does well on the right with Antony and for that reason he should continue. However, he needs to excel. Dalot does well in both positions.
In the centre of the defence, Victor Lindelof, who has been a standout player in the last two matches should keep his place after those performances. The Swedish international was not playing a lot of minutes this season she he has been given the chance to prove himself ahead of what could be a summer of upheaval for United. Luke Shaw could partner him, which would be a positive for United. He’s a better left-back but in a time of need, he’s a solution.
Midfield: Casemiro, Eriksen
United will need to get the better of their opposition with their midfield. In the last few matches, it has not been brilliant but has been effective. But Villa will be looking to control the middle of the pitch and that will result in United needing to play against that. United have had a largely positive season with Casemiro and Christian Eriksen in the midfield together but with injury and suspension crossing over for much of 2023, United lacked something brilliant.
Casemiro has looked tired of late but United need strength, control and ability in the area and there is nobody better than him right now. Eriksen is a breath of fresh air too, doing well this season but since he has returned from injury, he’s has been fatigued into the second half of the matches. Eriksen should partner Casemiro in the midfield as the duo have been brilliant when they have been together. United do have many different options for later in thematic though.
Marcel Sabitzer and Fred could provide something late on for United with either player needing a rest ahead of the next few weeks, which is going to be busy with Brighton and Hove Albion and West Ham United up next for United. Fred is a positive player, as is Sabitzer with both able to score goals and help to control the midfield. Ten Hag will be pleased that he has these players. Scott McTominay will still be out of action for this match though.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Sancho
The is the area where the goals have been coming from this season. Anthony has eight goals and one assist, Bruno Fernandes has 10 goals and 12 assists and Marcus Rashford has 29 goals and nine assists. That is a total of 47 goals and 22 assists so far this season – 69 goal contributions in total. That is great for this area. It is possible that Rashford will lead the line though, which puts Jadon Sancho in his position. He has six goals and two assists so far this season.
Antony has been largely positive for United this season, working well ahead of Wan-Bissaka on the right flank. The duo could work well against Villa with United seeing to use the width to help get the ball forward. The Brazilian has a good eye for a goal and will test the goalkeeper well. Bruno Fernandes, the captain on the pitch when Maguire is not playing, has been positive in his last few matches, getting an assist against Spurs. He needs to be starting again.
If Martial is recalled to the starting XI, Rashford will be playing on the left-wing. However, with Martial’s inability to find the back of the net again, it seems likely that Rashford will lead the line which gives his place to Jadon Sancho. He did well against Spurs, opening the scoring in the seventh minute of the match – playing well throughout his appearance. He will need to start well against Villa, as he did against Spurs. He has had a frustrating season to be fair.
Marcus Rashford is United’s top scorer this season and for that reason, he needs to be starting as long as he is fit. With 29 goals and nine assists, he will be seeking to cross into the 30 goals for the season with eight matches remaining, including the Emirates FA Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley at the start of June. United have had a positive season, winning the Carabao Cup, reaching the quarter final of the UEFA Europa League and the FA Cup final.
A top four finish in the Premier League is needed for United to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season but with the fixtures starting to look tough, United will need to step up and try and finalise their top four finish as soon as possible so some major players in the team can be rested for the final match of the season. If they keep struggling, City will have the firepower to beat United based on their high quality squad.
Rashford should have the firepower to find a goal against Villa, getting across the 30 goal mark this season. Anthony Martial could come on late in the match but based on what he has offered recently, it seems pointless in playing him at all. Wout Weghorst offers more on the attack with his work rate and work ethic, but he too is unable to find the back of the net regularly. United definitely need to be seeking to sign a decent striker in the summer. Glazers or not.
Substitutes: Butland; Maguire, Malacia; Sabitzer, Fred, Pellistri; Martial, Weghorst, Elanga
Ten Hag will have the usual nine substitutes on the bench in the Premier League against Villa – able to use five of them throughout the match. United will need to be at their best to ward off a resurgent Villa, who are pushing for a European place this season. With De Gea starting in goal, I would expect to see Jack Butland on the bench once again, seeking his chance to start for United since his loan spell commenced in January. I am sure he could play for United this season.
In defence, Harry Maguire could be back in action for the club. I don’t think he will start as that could play the club into the hands of Villa, so a bench place seems more likely with Shaw starting in defence ahead of him. Tyrell Malacia could be the other defender on the bench, should he be needed. In the midfield, Marcel Sabitzer, Fred and Facundo Pellistri should all be available against Villa with United having options in all midfield areas.
In attack, the area that United lack in quality this season, Anthony Martial, Wout Weghorst and Anthony Elanga could all be available. To be fair, none of this trio has been perfect this season and there are few goals between them, which is the main problem at United. The Glazers, or whoever owns United after the season has ended, will need to bring in quality players in attacking areas to get Unite firing ahead of the new season.
Written by John Walker