Manchester United are eying a fifth consecutive win in all competitions as they lock horns with Aston Villa on Thursday.
Manchester United have enjoyed a massive turnaround since the restart. They have arguably been the most impressive team in the Premier League, securing three wins in four matches – a run of form that has made them favourites to finish inside the top four this season.
The Red Devils are currently fifth in the league table. However, with Leicester City dropping points against Arsenal, they could minimise the gap to just one point with a win over Aston Villa this midweek, taking them in position to even topple Chelsea by the end of the upcoming weekend.
That being said, things are bound to get tricky against an Aston Villa side, who are known for their unpredictability. Although the Villans have been one of the worst sides in the Premier League this term, securing only 27 points on the board, they most notably churned out a draw in the reverse fixture.
Nevertheless, Aston Villa are still yet to win a single match since mid-January and are running the risk of going further down the relegation sinkhole, especially with Watford securing a victory against Norwich City this midweek. It means failing to win against Man United should leave Dean Smith’s men trailing the Hornets by four points.
And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over this fixture as these two sides chase contrasting targets at Villa Park on Thursday.
Team News & Tactics
Smith is likely to miss out on the services of defenders Matt Targett and Bjorn Engels. However, he could have John McGinn back to full fitness ahead of this game, as well as Tyrone Mings and the all-important Jack Grealish.
McGinn being fit means he should retain his role in the right side of the midfield, with Smith expected to deploy a traditional 4-3-3. He should be partnered by the in-form Douglas Luiz and Grealish, although the latter is expected to operate much further forward, looking to provide the creative essence.
In defence, the Aston Villa manager is unlikely to make any changes especially with Mings, who is set to partner Kortney House in central defence, back in contention.
Neil Taylor is a guaranteed starter at left-back while the opposite flank should be occupied by Ezri Konsa, although Ahmed Elmohamady and Frederic Guilbert are also options.
And finally, in the attack, Anwar El Ghazi and Trezeguet are almost guaranteed starters in the wider attacking positions. They will feature either side of Keinan Davis, who could be preferred ahead of Mbwana Samatta in the number nine role.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Reina; Konsa, Hause, Mings, Taylor; McGinn, Luiz, Grealish; Trezeguet, Davis, El Ghazi
Victor Lindelof picked up a back injury in the win over Bournemouth. He is a doubt heading into this fixture, with Eric Bailly in line to make his return to the starting lineup. The Ivorian should deputise for Lindelof at centre-back, featuring alongside the ever-present figure of Harry Maguire.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could also make one more change, particularly in the holding midfield role. Nemanja Matic has started quite often since the restart and should be given a breather against a lowly Aston Villa. It should, therefore, pave the way for the young Scott McTominay to feature as a number six.
However, there is unlikely to be any changes in the full-back slots with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw expected to retain their places in the side, although two youngsters in Diogo Dalot and Brandon Williams are waiting in the wings.
Meanwhile, in midfield, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes are both set to once again occupy their roles just ahead of the number six. They will be expected to provide the creative essence in the side as well as ease the club’s transition play.
Changes could come also at a premium in the attacking department, where the offensive combination of Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have done extremely well since the restart.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Pogba; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
- Manchester United are unbeaten in 20 Premier League away games against Aston Villa (W13, D7) since losing 3-1 at Villa Park on the opening day of the 1995-96 season. It is the longest unbeaten away run by one team against another in top-flight history.
- Manchester United are looking to become the first team in Premier League history to win four consecutive matches by a margin of at least three goals.
- Mason Greenwood has 15 goals in all competitions this season – the only teenagers to score more goals for the Red Devils in a season are George Best in 1965-66, Brian Kidd in 1967-68 and Wayne Rooney in 2004-05 (all scored 17 goals).
- Defeat at Liverpool means Villa have lost at least 20 times in each of their last four top-flight seasons – they did not lose more than 17 games in each of their first 21 Premier League campaigns.
- Villa have won just one of their last 42 Premier League meetings with Manchester United (D11, L30), with their solitary victory coming at Old Trafford in December 2009.
Player to Watch
Manchester United have been the best team in the Premier League since Bruno Fernandes’ transfer to Old Trafford was made official. And it is needless to say that the Portuguese international has emerged as the difference-maker for the Red Devils during the second half of the campaign.
In fact, Fernandes has already scored six goals and registered five assists in just nine league matches. His chance creation, combined with his goalscoring ability have not only added another dimension to United’s approach but it has also made the attackers much more effective.
Hence, stopping Fernandes from establishing himself in the game should remain Aston Villa’s main priority if they are to prevent Manchester United from securing all three points this midweek.
Aston Villa 0-2 Manchester United
Manchester United have been dominating opposition defences since the restart and the dazzling form of their attackers as well as the likes of Fernandes and Pogba should be enough to see them through the challenge of Aston Villa this midweek. We expect a comfortable 2-0 win for the Red Devils.