Aston Villa vs Manchester United – Pre-game Assessment

Sunday, February 11th, 16:30 – Villa Park

Referee: Rob Jones

As our Villans prepare to face Manchester United at Villa Park this Sunday, it’s disconcerting to note that, over the last five games, we have only tallied seven points while our visitors have picked up three more (a total of ten).  At the same time, we came a cropper to Chelsea on Wednesday in the FA Cup replay at home while Man U. earned their way to the 5th round of that competition a week prior. 

It’s not like the downturn in our Villans’ form was a surprise.  Experts, like Gary Neville, suggested that, eventually, we would lose some key members of our squad to injury and the pressure would increase.  In an interview, on December 10th, he also predicted that we would eventually finish 5th in the Premier League.  On the positive side, he was glowing in his praise of what Unai Emery has accomplished in his career and, in his time at Villa.

Little did the former Man U standout know that, just one week later, we would win at Brentford but lose Kamara (to a red card) and Torres (to injury) and we would struggle to regain consistency since.  That Torres is returning coincidental with Konsa sidelined for a month, or so, is a mixed blessing.  We need our absolutely strongest line-up, and nothing less.

Why?  The biggest threats to take the 4th spot from us are Spurs and Man U.  Of course, West Ham, Brighton, and Newcastle cannot be discounted but all three of those teams have significant key players unavailable and ten points, or more, to catch up.

For the record, it is worth noting what our Villans’ performance had been with Torres in our starting line-up.  We won 12, tied 2, and lost 2 of our games for a total of 38 points from 16 games (a rate of 2.37 points per game).  Without Torres (he missed seven Premier League games, six from injury), we only managed to win two and tie two of those games (losing three), a rate of 1.14 points per game.  If Torres had not been injured, we likely would have come a lot closer to maintaining our form.  Based on 2.37 points per game, we would now be ahead of Liverpool with 54 points.

Of course, statistics can misrepresent, but few would argue that that the Spaniard’s ball carrying and passing were key to our ability to control games and to create a level of confidence for the team and for the fans.  Ideally, he will be able to play 90 minutes, and at his best level, against a resurging Red Devils.

As for Manchester’s other team, they are riding a mini-winning streak of four games, of which two were F.A. Cup wins against lower league teams.  Their win at Wolves is the most impressive, building 2-0 and 3-1 leads and relinquishing them, but netting a winner in injury time to collect an invaluable three points.

What was evident from that performance was how dangerous a forward trio of Garnacho, Højlund, and Rashford is, with the support of Bruno Fernandes.  Of course, we should remember that from our reverse fixture last Boxing Day.  What was also apparent from both games is that it is possible to score against this Man U. defense, especially now that World Cup winner Lisandro Martínez is injured and unavailable.

I expect Unai to be very calculating in his strategy, realising that we cannot afford to lose, and cede the momentum to Man U who would then be only 5 points behind.  With a tie, Man U. would still be 8 points adrift and our Villans would still be ahead of Spurs on goal differential even if they win at home to Brighton.

The line-up and tactics will support a cautious approach with full backs emphasising defense and a selection of Ramsey on the left to supplement Moreno as well as transition to a winger on the break.  Ideally, this will avoid an early goal by the visitors.  If it does, patience must be employed knowing goals will come at the other end.

Result Prediction:

Prediction:  Aston Villa 2, Manchester United 2

Predicted Villa Line-Up:

With respect to the line-up, I anticipate that Emery will start Bailey and Ramsey over Diaby and Tielemans, based on their recent performances. 

Aston Villa: (4, 3, 3) Martínez, Cash, Carlos, Torres, Moreno, Kamara, McGinn, Luiz, Bailey, Ramsey, Watkins.

Subs: Marschall, Lenglet, Diaby, Zaniolo, Tielemans, Chambers, Iroegbunam, Rogers, Kellyman

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