Villa Park, Birmingham
Saturday, November 10, 17:30 GMT
Manchester United are off to Villa Park this weekend to face Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa side who could possibly be turning a corner. Red Devils have more often than not enjoyed their trip to Birmingham with Villa Park almost always proving to be like a second home. This fixture was once one of the top draws in English football but lately Villa’s downfall has put this duel on the back burner but historically, it still gets top billing from the old timers.
Aston Villa, under the new management, have started slowly to put it mildly, but the reassuring bit is the fact that their performances have been encouraging expect the second half calamity against the Saints. Villa Park faithful will need to be patient with their new manager as their team are already a much better footballing side than under Alex Mcleish although that is no hard feat, certainly. But the fixture list ahead is as daunting as they come; the visit by Fergie’s United is followed by a trip to Eastlands and straight after that the Gunners are in town. Aston Villa would do well to get anything out of the impending fixture list and the pressure could really mount on Lambert and his men.
Manchester United, on the other hand, are in sublime form and almost seem invincible. Fergie’s men have regained their ability to come back from the brink while back to back wins against Chelsea and Arsenal have lifted them to the top of the league. Nevertheless, United can hardly be complacent and must not take their foot off the peddle and Ferguson would ensure that contentment is not a factor as they look to build on this advantage and stay ahead of the chasing pack. Once more, United face a relatively easier fixture list as compared to their rivals, on paper at least, and the team from Old Trafford will be aiming to take full advantage of that.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Paul Lambert is facing an injury crisis of sorts going into this game. Charles N’Zogbia is out with a knee injury and will probably miss the next two games as well. Darren Bent is also unlikely to feature following his ankle injury in training before Villa’s last game against Sunderland. Although the manager is still unsure about the extent of the injury, there is little chance for the Englishman to be involved on Saturday. The good news for the manager is that Nathan Baker and Chris Herd are expected to be fit for the game although neither of them is expected to start. Left-back Joe Bennett is missing with a knee injury suffered at the Stadium of Light while Gardner and Petrov continue to remain long term absentees. Richard Dunne, who has also been missing since the start of the season is back in training which comes as a welcome news for Paul Lambert.
The manager is likely to go with the same formation that came away with all three points from Sunderland. However, it is fair to say that the manager does not have too many options to chop and change owing to his lengthy injury list. Nonetheless, the team that played at the Stadium of Light did a decent job and Lambert would like to continue with the winning combination barring any forced changes such as Joseph Bennett.
Bennett’s injury means that Eric Lichaj will take his place at left back with the rest of defence remaining the same. Clark and Vlaar will take up the responsibilities of containing the likes of van Persie and Chicharito while Lowton will be playing as the right full-back. While Lichaj is not too adventurous going forward, Lowton likes to make the forward runs into the enemy’s territory and provides a good attacking option for his team. However, he might be forced to curb his natural instincts in light of the attacking nature of his team’s opposition.
The trio of Westwood, Bannan and Ireland will marshal the central midfield for the home side while Weimann and Agbonlahor will be playing as the wide men. Although it will be a five man midfield of sorts but the two wingers will be making it a 4-3-3 formation when Villa are on the ball. The central midfielders will spread themselves allowing Weimann and Gabby to move forward and support Benteke in attack. Although the home side are lacking a bit of incisiveness, they more than make up for it by their searing pace of the forward players, especially Agbonlahor. United have been troubled by pace in their matches so far this season and Lambert will be looking to take advantage of this weakness.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Lichaj; Weimann, Westwood, Ireland, Bannan, Agbonlahor; Benteke
The United manager is having his best luck as far as injuries in his squad are concerned. The latest player to become fit was Chris Smalling, who played the whole 90 minutes in the Champions League game against Braga. Also, Phil Jones is back in training and it won’t be long before the teenager is fit for first team selection. Jonny Evans suffered a groin strain in midweek, but he should be available for the weekend’s clash. Nani also had a hamstring niggle and was taken off before the end, but he also should be fine and available for selection. Kagawa is still recovering from his knee injury while Nemanja Vidic has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation and is certain to be out until Christmas.
The regular back four of Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand and Evra should return to the starting line-up against Villa. Ferdinand and Rafael came off the bench late on as the manager decided to give them a partial rest in midweek. Chris Smalling had a good game in Portugal but the manager might not want him to play two games in three days shortly after his return from injury. However, Ferguson might not have a choice if Evans fails to recover from his groin injury.
After the short term experiment of the diamond formation, Fergie seems to be reverting back to his much preferred way of using the wingers. Still, the midfield will be shuffled once again as Ryan Giggs is certain to be rested after playing the full game on a heavy pitch on Wednesday. Anderson is also likely to be benched while Carrick and Cleverley, who both were rested against Braga, are likely to be restored to the starting line-up. The two Englishman have done a good job in the last two big games against Chelsea and Arsenal and their good form has even forced the manager to leave Scholes out of the starting line-up as the veteran has started just one game in almost two months. Ashley Young is also set to return on the left wing while Valencia, who played the majority of the last game as a right-back, will be moved up-field to his customary right wing position.
Robin Van Persie, who had a great impact as a substitute in the Champions League game, is likely to return to the first eleven as well while Rooney will once again be playing the role of an attacking midfielder as he has done for most of the season so far. Chicharito and Welbeck could also be used later in the game, if the manager decides to change the formation of the team.
Probable Starting Line up (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Young; Rooney; van Persie
- Aston Villa have won just 1 of their last 33 meetings with Manchester United.
- United have been unbeaten in their last 16 Premier League away trips to Villa Park.
- Only Steven Gerrard has scored more goals (5) against Manchester United than Gabriel Agbonlahor (4) since 2006.
- Wayne Rooney has scored just 13 out of 20 Premier League penalties. He also missed his last one against Arsenal.
Player To Watch Out For
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)
The Belgian has shown good promise in his short Villa career so far and looks a real prospect for the midlands club. Although he has missed some gilt-edged chances so far – most notably against Tottenham – the heartening thing for the manager is his movement and his ability to get to the end of chances. If he continues his good form, it’s only a matter of time before the youngster will be looked upon as one of the better strikers in the league. Lambert has also shown faith in him by picking him ahead of Darren Bent and Benteke will be keen to repay the faith of his manager.
Aston Villa 1-3 Manchester United
Statistically speaking, the Villains have the second worst attack in the league with only Sunderland managing lesser shots on target so far. Also, Lambert’s men have scored just 8 goals in the season so far which reflects the position they are in the league table at the moment. On the other end, United’s defence has not been upto the mark as well and could be troubled by the pace of Agbonlahor and Benteke. However, the Red Devils have enough firepower in their ranks to come away with an easy victory.