Old Trafford, Manchester
April 22, 2013; 19:00 GMT
As the Premier League season winds down to its climax, Monday night’s fixture at Old Trafford sees two teams with contrasting aspirations lock horns. The hosts, Manchester United, are champions elect and will be looking to get three points closer to regaining the title whereas the visitors Aston Villa are scrapping for survival at the foot of the table and would embrace anything that they garner from this game as bonus.
In spite of a few recent stutters, Manchester United still have a chance to finish the season with the highest points tally in the history of the Premier League. If Sir Alex Ferguson’s side wins all five of their remaining encounters, they will go past the 95 point mark set by Chelsea in 2004-05. That probably is the only incentive left for the team whose season has sort of tailed off ever since that controversial defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League. Last time out at Old Trafford, Manchester City beat United in the derby to bag the bragging rights and delay the inevitable. Last Wednesday at Upton Park, West Ham threw another spanner in the wheels as they held out for a well-deserved draw. With more daunting games against Arsenal and Chelsea lined up after this, United will be looking to make sure there are not any further hiccups before sealing their 20th league title.
If this fixture was being played a couple of months earlier, Aston Villa could well have written it off given the form and stature of their opponents. But with only four games left in the season and Villa perched precariously just above the drop zone, they can ill-afford to do so now. Villa have built up a decent head of steam coming into this game with just one defeat in the last five matches and will look to cause a few headaches for their much vaunted hosts. Their last away assignment saw them pick up three crucial points against fellow strugglers Stoke City thanks to a sumptuous strike by Matthew Lowton. A Fabian Delph own goal in their previous game against Fulham at home thwarted them from notching up consecutive victories.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Sir Alex admitted that he was relieved that none of his players picked up any new injuries after two games in four days away to two of the most physically aggressive teams in the league – Stoke and West Ham. But the bad news is that winger Ashley Young’s season has been prematurely curtailed after the knock to his ankle suffered in the recent Manchester derby. Paul Scholes has not featured since early February and Darren Fletcher remains a long term absentee. The game may come too soon for Chris Smalling, who was due to start training this week.
Apart from a brief dalliance with the diamond system earlier this season, Sir Alex has generally preferred the tried and trusted 4-4-2 and should continue to do so against Villa on Monday. With both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic having featured against West Ham just a few day back, Jonny Evans looks set to come in for either of the two. Rafael and Patrice Evra will take up their customary fullback positions in defense ahead of David De Gea.
Ryan Giggs was used only as a substitute in the midweek clash, which means he probably is penciled in for a starting role in the midfield. Alongside him there will be Michael Carrick – one of the candidates for the Player of the Year gong. Shinji Kagawa had an excellent game at Upton Park and should be rewarded with another starting berth while either of Antonio Valencia or Nani will play on the right wing.
Robin van Persie seems to have overcome his goal drought with strikes against Stoke and West Ham and will relish the opportunity to plunder a few against a porous Villa defense. Wayne Rooney did not have the best of the games at Upton Park but will still be favourite to start ahead of Danny Welbeck.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Kagawa; Rooney, van Persie
On injury front, the major concern for Villa is the fitness of Gabriel Agbonlahor, who missed last weekend’s clash with Fulham due to a thigh strain. Apart from this, Chrish Herd, Marc Albrighton, Garry Gardner and Richard Dunne are all ruled out due to long term injuries.
Paul Lambert has generally deployed a 4-3-2-1 formation this season. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan has been one of brighter lights this season at Villa Park, which is just as well since he is expected to be kept busy by United forwards all night long. Ciaran Clark who was on the bench last weekend will be pushing for a starting place alongside Ron Vlaar in centre of defense. If that happens, Nathan Baker will go out to left back while Lowton will retain his right back position.
In the midfield, Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood has been Lambert’s preferred choice of late for the position of holding midfielders. Charles N’Zogbia, who can be more than a handful on his day, will start in the role behind the front striker with Andreas Weimann and Agbonalor, fitness permitting, on either side. Christian Benteke, who has been immense this season for Villa, will start in lone role upfront.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Baker; Delph, Westwood; Agbonlahor, N’Zogbia, Weimann; Benteke
- Aston Villa’s 1-0 win in December 2009 was the last time an away team kept a clean sheet at Old Trafford in the league.
- That victory is Villa’s only win in last 34 league encounters with Manchester United.
- Manchester United’s one win in the last three league games represent their leanest spell this season.
- Aston Villa have scored at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 away matches in the Premier League.
Player To Watch Out For
Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United)
The diminutive Japanese playmaker has had a stop-start first season at the club but in recent weeks he has been able to demonstrate just why United paid big money to land him in the summer. He was the standout player in the draw at West Ham and set up both the goals for his team. He may not be comfortable with the role of a traditional winger but has enough nous to be a constant threat to the opposition even while starting in a wide position.
Manchester United 3-1 Aston Villa
While no one expects Paul Lambert’s team to come and lie down at Old Trafford, the huge gulf in quality of the two sides should translate to a comfortable home win for United.