Manchester United will travel to Villa Park on Saturday evening where they will take on Aston Villa in the Premier League just five days after their 1-0 victory in the third round of the Emirates FA Cup. Ralf Rangnick’s side did not manage to win convincingly but Scott McTominay’s header and Fred’s delivery was all that was needed to get the victory, despite the two disallowed goals for Villa, which Steven Gerrard will have moaned about, like the true Scouse whiner that he is. United need to be wining this match, getting some points on the board in the Premier League and more importantly, getting into some kind of form.
At the time of writing, United sit seventh in the Premier League with 31 points from 19 matches, winning nine times, drawing four times and losing six times. United have two matches in hand over most of the teams above them, the Brentford match will be played next week with the Brighton and Hove Albion match still to be rearranged. Villa sit 14th in the league with 22 points from 19 matches, winning seven, drawing once and losing 11 times – which is dire form for the club. Villa have lost their last three matches in all competitions and will need to start getting results or the could find themselves dragged into a relegation battle.
Previous meetings with Aston Villa and their connections with Manchester United.
United and Villa have played a total of 53 matches in the history of the Premier League. United have won 37 matches, drawing 12 with Villa winning the remaining four matches. United have scored a total of 97 goals, winning seven penalties and scoring five of them. Villa have scored 32 goals, winning one penalty and scoring it. United have kept a total of 27 clean sheets with Villa keeping a total seven. The discipline between these two sides is not the best with United players being shown 77 yellow cards and three red cards whilst Villa players have been shown 74 yellow cards and four red cards. United need this win after the Wolves defeat.
Villa and United both have history with many players wearing the shirts of both teams through the years. Axel Tuanzebe is the most recent, although his loan spell has now ended with him heading to Napoli for the rest of the season. Ron Atkinson, a former United manager, played for both United and Villa. Peter Schmeichel also played for Villa a year after leaving United. Eric Djemba-Djemba, Mark Bosnich, Dwight Yorke and Ashley Young, who left Villa for United, then Inter Milan and re-signed for Villa this summer. Tom Cleverley was once loaned to Villa, Steve Bruce is a former manager of theirs and Roy Keane an assistant manager.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Aston Villa in the Premier League at Villa Park on Saturday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea is still the main player in the squad that is trying to do his best whilst accommodating his teammates mistakes. If the defence was much better, United would be getting the wins they need to break back into the top four this season. The Spanish goalkeeper has endured a tough time at United, especially last season when Dean Henderson stepped forward to challenge him. It seemed like it could have been the end of the road at United for De Gea, but this season he has been virtually faultless in goal and hopefully he will continue to strive to reach that goal as United look forward to finding their feet post-Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
It is important for United to use the voices of the long-standing players at the club as those with weaker attitudes are found out and given the chance to turn things around, or be shipped out of the club. United need to get back on the road to the glory days as it will soon be a decade since they last won a league title and with well over £1 billion spent post-Sir Alex Ferguson, that is something of an embarrassment given that the people running the club have relatively no football knowledge or experience. Rangnick’s role after being the interim manager should give United a club above the playing level – perhaps it will all work out eventually?
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Phil Jones, Raphael Varane, Alex Telles
United need to find a way of strengthening the defence this season, at least until the summer when there is some stability with a new permanent manager who will set up his new team. Harry Maguire has been injured for the last few matches, despite giving an interview about what has happened at the club which almost seems like some of the players are not interested in performing for the club – which is what it looks and feels like. Luke Shaw is suspended for this match, so he will get a little break. Diogo Dalot suffered a cut on Monday evening against Villa in the FA Cup, so there is a chance that he will not start this match.
If that is the case, Aaron Wan-Bissaka might get a chance to redeem himself after some poor performances and an injury layoff. On the left side, Alex Telles will get a chance to earn his place again after Shaw returned from an injury layoff himself. In the centre of the defence, Raphael Varane is a definite as he seems to ooze class and is calm in the centre of defence. Victor Lindelof can be problematic at times, so providing he is ready after suffering a knock which kept him out on Monday, Phil Jones could partner the Frenchman, having done so well together when he made his senior return from a a knee injury that lasted around two years.
Midfield: Jadon Sancho, Fred, Donny van de Beek
United’s midfield is perhaps the main problem area in the squad at present. Despite a number of players in these positions, it just does not seem to work all that well. Paul Pogba started the season in fine form but an injury sustained many months ago has derailed his season – which is probably his last at the club being that he is out of contract in the summer. It was suggested that it could be another four or five weeks before he even returns to training, so it seems unlikely that any reliance will be put upon him this season. Donny van de Beek has been fit for the majority of the season, yet he rarely gets picked – which may have to change this weekend.
With Scott McTominay suspended for this match, an a loss for United based on his form in the last few matches, Rangnick is going to have to make a gamble that does not result in Nemana Matic playing 90 minutes. Fred is likely to start in place of McTominay and Van de Beek should also start with Jadon Sancho, providing he has recovered from a thigh injury, being the third midfielder, although playing a wide position in the three, able to get forward on the attack and help defend when Villa are on the attack. Rangnick will probably stick with his 4-2-2-2 formation, but it seems to change throughout matches anyway, so who knows.
Attacking Midfield: Bruno Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes has started to find his feet playing in the 4-2-2-2 formation, which does not suit him all that much being that he is regularly used in a wide position, which he is not used to. I think playing in a 4-3-1-2 formation suits him more and puts him in his favoured position just behind the strikers, where he is able to assist and score goals himself. The Portuguese magnifico has five goals and nine assists so far this season, scoring his last goal against Arsenal in the Premier League at the start of December, under the management of Michael Carrick. He needs to start getting back into the swing of things this season.
There is much debate about whether Fernandes can perform on the same stage as Cristiano Ronaldo, because they don’t see to click for Portugal, but the duo respect each other and can learn to play together at club level, which will benefit Portugal also. Fernandes was the stand out player last season and still has more goals and assists that most of his teammates going back two years when he signed for the club. It seems that Fernandes has become the player that we were told Paul Pogba was, which is quite funny as the Pogba supporters will tell you that Fernandes is the problem at the club, which seems very agenda driven. Pogba has been a failure.
Forwards: Edinson Cavani, Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo was missing with a hip injury against Villa on Monday evening and should be back in action for the Premier League encounter at Villa Park. With 14 goals and three assists so far this season, he is United’s top scorer and the player most likely to score a goal, providing there is creativity, which is a major struggle at United this season, despite the number of creative players in the squad. United, at least on paper have one of the best squads in the league this season but the underperforming nature of the squad is the real problem. Ronaldo recently spoke out about the problems and he could drag his teammates out of the mire.
Edinson Cavani should start with Ronaldo. The duo can provide space for each other and on their day, they can be a handful for the defenders in the league. Cavani has just two goals so far this season, scoring 17 last season, and I am sure he will start performing at the same level as last season, aiming to get something from what will be his last season at the Old Trafford club. Some suggest that Mason Greenwood should be starting ahead of either Ronaldo or Cavani, but when he has played, he looks out of form and will need to work on returning his form in order to be started ahead of two legends of the game.
Substitutes: Tom Heaton; Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot; Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic; Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Amad Diallo, Anthony Elanga
United will be able to name nine substitutes on the bench, using just three of them in the Premier League. Rangnick had the chance to use five substitutes against Villa in the FA Cup on Monday evening, not using all of them for whatever reason. This time he has little choice. Dean Henderson was not on the bench on Monday and I think that will be the same for this match with former Villa goalkeeper Tom Heaton taking his spot on the bench, as was the case on Monday. The defence could be depleted with just Victor Lindelof and Diogo Dalot on the bench, providing the latter is able to play following the laceration to his ankle.
In midfield, another area were there is a problem with players, Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic could be available, should they be needed. Of course, Rangnick could call on reinforcements from the academy to take positions on the bench to give him some more variety in terms of what players can offer from the bench. In attack, which is where United are particularly strong this season, not necessarily in form, the likes of Marcus Rashford, who needs to severely improve his form, Mason Greenwood, Amad Diallo, who could leave for a loan spell this month and Anthony Elanga, who should now be ahead of Rashford – could all be available.
Written by John Walker