Manchester United welcome Aston Villa to Old Trafford in the third round of the Emirates FA Cup on Monday evening. It will be the first time that Steven Gerrard will manage a team at the Theatre of Dreams and the first time that United will have played in a week, following their dreadful defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers almost a week ago. United need to kick back and earn their place in the fourth round of the competition, or face yet more discontent from the supporters. It is time to stand up and be counted, not sit there sulking and expect sympathy because you have to go home from work in the dark and train more.
United have a big problem at the club. There seems to be a distinct lack of ambition at the club which can only come from the top. High wages are paid to players who have no belief in the club nor care about the club. That is what it looks like. There is so much money in this game now that mediocre players are earning scandalous sums of money to kick a ball around a football pitch, seemingly thinking that they will be praised like gods off the pitch, which is never going to be the case. In the not too distant future, if could be a case of what these players had and lost down to their own selfishness. It is time to find a backbone and do something.
Previous meetings with Aston Villa and their connections with Manchester United.
United and Villa have played a total of 12 matches in the history of the FA Cup. United have won ten matches with Villa winning the remaining three matches. United have scored a total of 29 goals. Villa have scored 14 goals. United have kept a total of three clean sheets with Villa keeping a total none in these matches. This will be a big match for United – coming off the back of a defeat to Wolves in their last Premier League match, also with the fact that Villa have already beaten them 1-0 in the league this season – which was played at Old Trafford on the 25 September 2021. Rangnick will need to get this team performing – which will be tough.
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 as assistant manager.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Aston Villa in the Emirates FA Cup at Old Trafford on Monday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea is the in form goalkeeper at United this season. Grated, Dean Henderson may need more matches, he will have to impress the manager in training. As he’s has just a few appearances the season, it seems more likely to stick with De Gea as there is enough time between matches to rest. If United did not have De Gea this season, they would be in a much worse position than they are now – and that would be even more devastating for the supporters of the club. The Spanish goalkeeper has made many superb saves to deny the opposition from getting more against United. If the defence were as good as him, it would be fine.
De Gea will be determined for United to bounce back from that defeat to Wolves and that is something that United will need to do to appease the manager and the supporters. These players have let United down time and time again and if there are problems in the dressing room, which Harry Maguire seems to suggest is not the case, they need to be ironed out. United cannot continue limping from match to match with supporters expecting them to turn a corner, only to end up with them being on the wrong road and nowhere near turning a corner. This has continued for nine seasons post-Sir Alex Ferguson – it cannot continue any longer.
Defenders: Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw
United’s defence needs to find stability. I wrote something similar ahead of every match and it never really seems to change. United have some players in this group that should be so much better than they have been and some world class players, or at least players who should be regarded as such – but seem to be struggling. Against Villa, Diogo Dalot should occupy the right-back position as he is in a much better position that Aaron Wan-Bissaka this season and form seems to have hit him and missed the latter. Dalot is much better in an attacking sense, which is the attacking stability United need to grasp from the back.
At left-back, Luke Shaw should start this match being that he is suspended for the clash with Villa in the Premier League just five days later. If Shaw can find the form he had shown last season, it will go a long way in setting United up to achieve something – but the season so far has established that the Premier League title will not be something that United challenges for – unless there is a miracle. Raphael Varane should keep his place in the centre of defence, coming back from an injury he will need all the minutes he can get to get back into the swing of things. With Harry Maguire a doubt, Phil Jones should start alongside the Frenchman.
Midfield: Jadon Sancho, Scott McTominay, Donny van de Beek
United’s midfield should be much better than it is. There is a big lack of creativity which results in the forward struggling to create things themselves, which adds to the frustration. The 4-2-2-2 formation is not something that is working for United now, even though it is a 4-4-2 formation with wingers. There is something that Rangnick wants these players to present on the pitch which is a struggle – maybe in time with a few new additions, things will change. A three-man midfield could establish some creativity but will lose some width which is not the best but something needs to give for United.
Jadon Sancho could play a wide midfield role, getting forward when United are on the attack and helping in the midfield when they are on the receiving end. It could work for United. Scott McTominay could offer a kind of defensive role, which he has done under Jose Mourinho, not that it is a solution but it is a way to deliver his energy and determination which has shown through recently. He will be suspended like Shaw in this fixture in the Premier League just five days later, so will get a rest until the 22 January. Donny van de Beek could start in the other midfield place, offering some offensive play and a chance to get his foot in the door.
Attacking Midfield: Bruno Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes is wasted in the 4-2-2-2 formation as largely he is in a wide position, which does not work to his strengths. In this formation, he would operate just behind the forwards, with will also result in a distinct lack of width but something that could work for United. If all goes well, the fullbacks should provide width going forward with the three-man midfield covering for them if they get caught tracking back to their positions from an attacking play. This is how a team should be working, in my opinion anyway. Fernandes is the player that can find the creativity coming from the midfield towards the attacking players.
This season, the Portuguese magnifico, who is of the interest of Barcelona once again, according to the media, which probably means that is a lie, again, has five goals and nine assists in all competitions so far this season and only Cristiano Ronaldo is ahead of him based on goals scored (14). He has been out of form recently and has been left dejected when things do not go his way, but who can blame him when he has suffered just like we have. There are so many fan cammers who think that just like Ronaldo, Fernandes is a problem for United. If the pair of them left the club in the not too distant future, the same people would be moaning about that.
Forwards: Edinson Cavani, Cristiano Ronaldo
There have been suggestions that both Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani should not be playing on the same team together. But I think that is pretty lame to suggest. When it starts to work, they will be undroppable. Granted, more time needs to ge given to the likes of Mason Greenwood, who is just as good up front, but is well out of form at this time. Ronaldo has 14 goals and three assists so far this season and despite showing himself as a frustrated figure, he has been labelled by some as the problem at the club. The only thing he is guilty of is seeing how far United have fallen and wanting to raise the game of the team.
Cavani has been injured for most of the season so far and has made his return in the last few matches. He has two goals to his name so far and this seems to be his final season at the club, so he will be seeking to raise his form and get the goals and assists coming. Last season, he was a great striker and got himself 17 goals and six assists in all competitions, so match that will be a target, beating that would be so much better. If the duo ca work well together, which we know they can United will be in good hands. The creativity is the main problem at the club this season and if United and Rangnick can overcome that, there will be something to achieve.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles, Aaron Wan-Bissaka; Jesse Lingard, Fred; Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Elanga
Nine substitutes can be named on the bench in the FA Cup this season, much like the Premier League but a total of five can be used throughout the match, which will help Rangnick, providing he can fine at least 16 players in his squad who are going to put in a performance. I would expect Dean Henderson to be on the bench in this match with De Gea the player in form. Rangnick will need to sweat on his defence though as there is a chance that Harry Maguire will miss this match too. In the event that he does, Phil Jones could start and the likes of Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles and Aaron Wan-Bissaka could be on the bench.
In midfield, Jesse Lingard and Fred could add something to the squad, should they be needed. Nemanja Matic has played in the last two matches and should be rested as he will be needed in the Premier League match against Villa as McTominay will be suspended from that match after receiving five yellow cards within the first 19 matches of the season. In attack, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Elanga could all be on the bench to provide something at some point in the match should the likes of Ronaldo, Cavani and Sancho all fall short in offering United something – but the creativity will need to be at a high level for this to happen.
Written by John Walker