Manchester Utd vs Aston Villa
“You can argue for [Villa being a stronger side], yeah!”Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
By Dean Gregory
A well earned point against Chelsea demonstrated Villa’s ability to keep up with the biggest teams in the league. Next up will be Manchester Utd, and a win will put them in third place.
Man Utd have been strong in the league in recent weeks and find themselves in second place, three points off leaders Liverpool, despite facing criticism about not being good enough this season. Some sections of the United fanbase still aren’t convinced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and perhaps he’ll need a trophy to put minds at rest.
Meanwhile, many casual pundits will be expecting Villa to drop away as the weeks pass in 2021.
A win for either club would see them cement their league position in the top four and address their doubters.
Man Utd – D W W D W
Aston Villa – W D W W D
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Aston Villa’s improvement
“You can argue for [Villa being a stronger side], yeah!
“They’ve been brilliant. I have to say Dean Smith has done a fantastic job. We played them in pre-season and they beat us in our one game we had before the league. We know all about how tough this is going to be – they have got individual players, they’re physically strong and, defensively, they have been one of the better teams in the league.
“When you beat Liverpool 7-2, it’s not just defending but counter-attacking with quality players. Maybe that’s the game everyone will remember from this season.”
Dean Smith on possible squad rotation
“We’ve got a wonderful performance unit at the training ground and within this football club who look at the numbers, look at where the players are and whether they are in the red zone and I’ll certainly be guided by them.
“But also the players, I think sometimes we can take it out of their hands. Being a player before and having JT, who’s been a player at the top of the Premier League, players know when they’re in that red zone.
“We trust them and we’re hoping they give us honest answers of where they are. At the moment, momentum and confidence is a big thing for me and we’re going to keep using that.”
New Year Villa Sale Below
Man Utd use a 4-2-3-1 formation with Anthony Martial up front, Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford behind him, Fred and Scott McTominay in front of the defence and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw at the back.
With 52.2% possession and 83.9% passing success on average, they are a team that looks to play through their opponents when they are on the ball. They possess plenty of pace in attack however, and have established themselves as one of the most dangerous counter-attacking teams in the league – something Leeds found out the hard way.
They tend to favour attacking down the left side, with 44% of all their progressive moves going up that flank. Rashford is particularly dangerous on the break, and when turning over possession deep in their own half they will often look to him to aid the transition to attack.
31 goals from 26.22 xG is testament to their efficiency going forward. They have won five penalties so far (scoring four), showing how difficult they can be; their fast breaks can leave defenders panicking, while they can also set defenders on their toes with skill and trickery in the box.
They have conceded 23 goals from 21.81 xGA, showing some weakness at the back. It is not a drastic underperformance, but they will be concerned about allowing so many opportunities despite attempting to control games. Four of these goals have been penalties; as discussed, this is a sign of last-ditch, panicky defending.
Despite criticisms, Man Utd have established themselves as a competent team with two particular methods of approaching the game often used in conjunction. They are to be handled with caution, as they are just as capable with the ball as they are without it.
One to Watch
Man Utd often looked lost in the first half of last season before Bruno Fernandes showed up. He is undoubtedly their star player with ten goals and seven assists this season, leading the team in both stats. He shoots 3.1 times per game, makes 3.1 key passes per game and plays 4.1 long balls, switching the play and transitioning between defence and attack.
His influence on the team is similar to Grealish’s at Villa. Man Utd simply do not tick without him.
Man Utd 0-1 Aston Villa – 12-12-2009
Gabby Agbonlahor scored the only goal in the last match Villa won against Man Utd. They are long overdue for a positive result in this fixture.
How it could play out
It has been a long time since Villa last beat Man Utd, and the all time head-to-head makes for some dire reading. A win for Villa will take their all-time tally to 50 wins in this fixture. A win for Utd takes theirs to 100.
There has not been a time in recent memory where Villa has been more likely to turn this situation on its head; flying high in the league, playing great football while also being one of the league’s most defensively solid teams. What’s more, Ross Barkley’s imminent return to the fold will only make them stronger as a team.
If Barkely is going to come straight back into the team in this match, who is dropped to make way? Every player in the team is in high spirits and in good form, it seems inconceivable to drop any of them. The most likely to lose their place would have to be Traore – while he has looked increasingly good in his recent appearances, El Ghazi on the other wing is in irresistible form and has made himself undroppable. McGinn and Luiz are the linchpins of the side, so their place is not in question. That leaves Traore as the only likely choice.
As for defence, there is a surprising amount of debate around Tyrone Mings returning straight to the side. Hause has been great in Konsa’s absence, and with Mings unable to play the last fixture due to some questionable decision making against Crystal Palace, he stepped up and put in a monolithic performance against Chelsea.
To drop Hause while he’s riding the crest of a wave would be harsh, but how badly would the team miss Mings’ organisational skills if he’s not present against Utd? There was a time only recently where to question Mings’ inclusion in the squad would be madness. This is a testament to the current strength in the squad right now, and the great positivity in the camp.
Man Utd 1-2 Aston Villa
There has never been a better time for Villa to turn their luck around. A win against Man Utd after all this time would be the best possible marker for just how far this team has come in so little time.