Manchester United vs Aston Villa
After dispatching Newcastle last week, Aston Villa head to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United next. In a tight table, they sit precariously in 11th place on 17 points.
A win would see Villa, who are currently 16th and only two points above the drop zone, joining them on 17 points and behind only on goal difference.
With the table as close as it is at the moment, every result is crucial. Can Villa take advantage and climb the table?
Man Utd – D W L W D
Aston Villa – W L L L W
Dean Smith on Manchester United
“Listen, to be fair they were the most successful team for almost two decades under Sir Alex Ferguson.
“It was tough for anyone to go there. Yes, we have been having a tough time at Old Trafford but times are changing and, hopefully, that starts Sunday.
“You’re going to play in front of 76,000 fans. It’s the biggest capacity, apart from Wembley, in England. It’s a massive club and you only have to look at the trophies they’ve won in their history.
“But they’re three points above us in the league and all you can do is play against what’s out there.
“They’ve got some very good players coming through. I like the way Ole has gone about his business. He’s got a young squad he’s progressing for the future, a little bit like what we’re doing here.
“That takes time. It gives us an opportunity to go to Old Trafford and show what we’re all about as well. We feel we’ve left some points out there against these big clubs and that’s going to change sooner or later with the way we’re playing.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Axel Tuanzebe
“Axel can do the team talk for us!
“Axel has done fantastic and he’s played for 90 minutes, after five minutes or 10 minutes against Sheffield United as well.
“He’s fit now and available and, as you said, he did well today.
“He gives me another headache but it’s a good headache. We’ve got players coming back. We’ve suffered from injuries badly and now we’re getting more and more back that will only help us.”
Man United’s preferred starting lineup is a 4-2-3-1, with Anthony Martial leading the line, supported by Marcus Rashford and Daniel James on the wings and Victor Lindelöf partnering Harry Maguire in defence. They attempt to control possession, push high and attack with pace.
By pushing high they tend to leave space in behind. In order to keep average shots conceded per game down to 9.9, they rely on a high frequency of tackles. A total of 12 players have averaged at least one tackle per game this season, with right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka managing five a match alone. This aggressive form of defending has seen them awarded 28 yellow cards so far.
Man United are great at fashioning high quality chances, with their 19 goals this season coming from an xG of 23.12, an average of 1.78 per game across the whole team. This means they should have scored around 4.12 goals more than than they have, suggesting they are not as good at putting chances away as they are at creating them.
In their last match, a draw against Sheffield United, they trialled a 3-4-2-1 with Phil Jones joining the defence and Wan-Bissaka and Brandon WIlliams as wing-backs. With this tactic the wing-backs provide the width, the wingers tuck in and the two edge centre backs pull wide to help cover the flanks.
This saw them control possession with 59.4% and score three goals from 1.33 xG, but did not prevent Sheffield from taking 12 shots, generating 1.56 xG.
This was an evenly matched game, and it remains to be seen whether they will attempt this tactic again.
Man Utd are a highly aggressive team with more quality in their ranks than their current place in the table suggests. Villa will have to learn from past mistakes to prevent them from creating too many high quality chances.
One to Watch
Their clear stand-out player in terms of attacking prowess this season has been Marcus Rashford. His seven goals and four assists have come from 3.1 shots and 1.4 key passes per game. His personal xG score so far stands at 8.78 according to Understat, which is miles ahead of anybody else in the team.
His high attacking output comes at the price of lacklustre defensive contribution, meaning he is guilty of leaving his left-back exposed. He could just as easily be the dagger in Villa’s heart as he could the knife in his own team’s back this weekend.
Manchester United 0-1 Aston Villa – 12-12-2009
Gabby Agbonlahor was the last player to give Villa a win against Man Utd almost a full decade ago.
How it could play out
Looking back at Villa’s overall record against Man United makes for grim reading. Wins against them are few and far between, with the game mentioned above being the most recent, and the one previous being another full decade before that. Historical precedent suggests Villa are now just about due a win, and Utd’s less than inspiring form of late offers Villa the best opportunity they have had for a long time.
United may be six spots higher than Villa in the table, but they are only three points ahead having won the same amount of games (four). Their higher position is thanks to three additional draws and a better defensive record. Both teams have scored 19 goals, but Utd have conceded 15 to Villa’s 20, and that is where the sides are split.
Villa’s 19 goals have come from a team total of 19.77 xG. They are almost as good at creating the chances as their next opponents, but are notably better at turning them into goals. With Villa’s proficiency at creating high quality goalscoring opportunities contrasting their defensive struggles, this match could turn out to be a slug fest on both sides of the pitch.
Paul Pogba, so often United’s best player, has not featured much this season due to injury. Solskjaer has confirmed in no uncertain terms that he will not be available for this match.
Meanwhile, Grealish’s return last weekend has effectively seen Villa return to full strength at a good time.
Perhaps the biggest concern Villa will have, however, is the news that Kevin Friend will be in charge of VAR for this match.
Manchester United 1-0 Aston Villa
Man Utd will be held back by Alex Ferguson, who will be distracting Solskjaer by trying to get him to sign both Grealish and McGinn during the game. Villa will take advantage of the confusion by scoring eight goals, all of which will be deemed offside by Kevin Friend. Rashford will score the winner after 17 minutes of added time.
Either that, or Villa will learn from their defensive mistakes, put in an inspiring performance and finally grab that 50th win over United, the first of many to come.