Aston Villa vs Manchester United
A predictable loss as Anfield sees Villa’s chances of avoiding relegation get ever slimmer. With Watford beating Norwich City, Villa’s predicament has only become more dire. A visit from another top-tier opponent in Manchester United is up next, and a win will be vital if they hope to survive.
Can Villa pull off an unexpected and dramatic win to fire up their survival challenge?
Aston Villa – D L D L L
Manchester Utd – W D W W W
Dean Smith on Man Utd
“It’s a tough task but no tougher than going to Anfield and playing against Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino – three of the best strikers and now champions.
“Now we’ve got to do the same against a team who are full of confidence and the main man to watch is Fernandes who’s been outstanding for them.
“Hopefully this will be the first [league win since 1995]. United are a very good team, we know that. They’ve improved, and as I said Fernandes is playing very well.
“They’ve got pace and power up front as well but they conceded a couple of goals against Bournemouth at the weekend and Bournemouth took the lead.
“There’s a lot of heart we can take certainly from our performance against Liverpool and we’re going to need that sort of performance again, but we need to be better in the final third and take our chances when they come.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Jack Grealish
“I think the last game obviously they caused us some problems, both Grealish off left and El Ghazi off the right. He scored a fantastic goal.
“There’s been lots said and talked about him and we need to be aware of him. Whoever is close to him, if he’s off the left, in the middle, on the right. What he does is attract players to him and create space for others, so there’s not just one player in that Villa team. There’s many of them.”
Man Utd’s preferred formation this season has been a 4-2-3-1 with Anthony Martial up front, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood behind him, and a usual centre back pair of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.
They like to pressure their opponents and play high, and an average possession of 54.4% and a passing accuracy of 83.3% across the season suggests they are generally successful. They manage to play 88% of all passes short, resorting to long balls only 9% of the time.
They do not cross often – an average of 18 crosses attempted per match is only 3% of all passes played. Aerial ability is a noted weakness of theirs across the team, particularly up front – while it is not a glaring weakness, they do still seem to actively try to keep the ball on the ground as much as they can.
Man Utd have scored 56 goals from an xG of 57.69. They are good at creating chances, and they tend to make good use of them when they do. More so than most teams, they are adept at shooting from range – 46% of all shots they take come from outside the box. Any sight of goal is worth taking for them.
Defensively, they have conceded 33 goals from an xGA of 34.48. A play style which sees them impose themselves on their opponents means they do not face massive pressure, and they deal with it reasonably when they need to.
This season, Man Utd have established themselves as a team which, in terms of top four contenders, is stable if not exceptional. High calibre players mean that sometimes their individual ability can shine through and give them an edge, but they need to excel at something if they hope to put themselves back in the picture for a title challenge.
One to Watch
Since being signed in January, Bruno Fernandes has been a revelation for Man Utd. Their previously uninspiring midfield has been boosted considerably. His six goals and five assists in just nine games is an impressive output, especially from a midfielder.
He takes 3.7 shots, provides 2.2 key passes, draws 1.2 fouls per game, and has been awarded MotM three times in his short stint as a Premier League player. He seems to be the spark that Man Utd have been looking for.
Aston Villa 3-1 Manchester United – 19-08-1995
Ian Taylor, Mark Draper and Dwight Yorke scored in the first half to seal a rare win against Man Utd.
Manchester United 2-2 Aston Villa – 01-12-2019
Jack Grealish turned on the style with a stunning goal early on, only for his work to be undone by an unfortunate error bry Tom Heaton. Victor Lindelof looked like he might have secured the win for them, only for Tyrone Mings to rescue a point almost immediately.
How it could play out
49 wins, 40 draws and 98 losses. The last home win in any competition was back in 1999, and the last win overall was in 2009. This is the record Villa boasts against Man Utd over the last two decades.
It makes for dire reading; even worse, Watford’s win over Norwich means that a loss here threatens to cut Villa adrift. With five games to go, survival will require a win against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Nobody said this season would be easy, right?
Man Utd may not be the force they once were, but they are an in-form, long unbeaten (16 games) and a dangerous team. As a unit they excel at nothing in particular, but their attacking personnel is beginning to stand out with Fernandes pulling the strings behind them.
United boast a young and vibrant trio in Greenwood (18), Rashford (22) and Martial (24), who have scored a combined total of 55 in all-competitions, so far. Compare that to Villa’s three striker options in Samatta, Davis and Vassilev, who have a combined tally of just two goals for the season. Ouch!
With United having scored five times or more on four occasions in their past 16 games, it will take a cohesive and disciplined team performance by Villa to keep them quiet.
Listen to the latest MOMS podcast for Villa hope in the fixture
Aston Villa 1-1 Manchester United
Again, optimistic and you could say completely ignoring the difference in the two team’s striker’s goal tallies. Given the current positions of each team, historical precedent and Villa’s predicament, it seems likely that Smith would be more than happy to leave with a point here. There’s some logic to that, but let’s hope Villa go for the win. One is sorely needed.