Manchester United prepare to host Aston Villa at Old Trafford days after they were thumped 0-3 on the hallowed grounds by arch rivals Manchester City. United would be smarting from the wounds inflicted on them by the ‘noisy neighbours’ when they take the field in what clearly looks and feels like a mid-table match. United’s season has had frequent ups and downs. A decent performance on the field is almost immediately followed up by an abject, indifferent performance in a subsequent fixture.
This erratic performance and the inability to hold their own on the football field sees the reigning Champions led by David Moyes languishing in 7th position in the league table and possibly out of contention even for Europa League. The defeat to City on Tuesday night also means that this will be United’s lowest scoring season ever. Enough and more has been written about Manchester United and their manager David Moyes in the media. Poor tactics, inexplicable team selections, lack of motivation on the pitch and an overall inadequate performance have exacerbated the effects of the managerial transition and manager and supporters would both be wishing the season ended sooner.
Team news and tactics
United will take the field against Villa at home before their home leg Champions League Quarter Final game against current European champions Bayern Munich and so this league game also gains significance as some what of a dress rehearsal. This will be Moyes’ final chance to try out and finalise his lineup for the mid week fixture as well as work on his tactics. United will start the game without star striker Robin van Persie who has injured his knee again, which will keep him out of action for at least 4-6 weeks according to the club. Rooney will most probably head the attacking line as the sole striker. Given that Mata is cup tied with Chelsea for the season, he will most definitely start the game against Aston Villa in his preferred role of playing behind the striker. Seeing their success in combination in the league game against West Ham last weekend, Kagawa will probably start in the left midfield position alongside Mata.
Adnan Januzaj who last played for United in the 0-3 defeat at the hands of Liverpool will probably start in the right midfield position as Moyes would look to rest Valencia some more after that nasty eye injury in the game against Olympiakos. Rest assured the Ecuadorian’s services would be required against the German champions in the CL games so Moyes would want him fit and raring to go for the game on Tuesday. Carrick has been a permanent fixture in United’s central midfield and given the circumstances United are in, it would not be a surprise if he started in midfield. Fletcher could be another option especially since Carrick may be needed to play in defense.
Fellaini was good against West Ham but he was played out of the game by Yaya Toure and Fernandinho in the City game. Fellaini has long been considered a minnow bully by a sizable section of football fans. Even so, it may be worth a shot to start him against Aston Villa if only to rest any other midfield players for the game. Moyes may start Cleverley against Munich owing to his ability to play the short and quick passing game as well as disrupt passing sequences from the opponent. However, his last outing for United did not end happily after he was substituted during the half time break. While the official version stated an injury to the midfielder, it is highly probable it was triggered after his dismal first half performance against City. Either way, it is unlikely that he will feature in the game against Villa. United’s defense will also be an area of major concern for the United manager. Evans and Smalling are still injured and may not be fit in time for the Villa game. Rio had a torrid game against City where he just could not deal with the pace of Navas, Silva and Dzeko.
Moreover, it does not seem like his fitness is at the level to allow him to play two full games in the space of 5 days. Nemanja Vidic may be needed on Tuesday so Moyes will be keen to have him rested and fit for that game. Vidic has been inconsistent this season but more importantly he has been a magnet for injuries. In such a scenario expect Carrick to start in central defence alongside Phil Jones. Rafael should start the game on RB. The Brazillian fallback has had a couple of torrid games where he has displayed the ugly side of his game. If he intends to play for the club for an extended period, Rafael will have to ensure to channel his frustration and/or passion into his game rather than make petulant errors and get booked. More than once in the last one month, Rafael has been in situations where only dumb luck has kept him from receiving a second yellow and being sent off. Buttner can be expected to start the game on left back in preparation for the Bayern game where Evra would be serving a one game suspension. David de Gea has been one of United’s most consistent good players this season and there is no evidence to suggest that he will not start the game in goal against Aston Villa.
With this starting lineup, expect United to play the passing game and mount attacks on the break that allowed them to blow away West Ham last weekend. Wayne Rooney will obviously be the point man but Moyes may ask his talismanic striker to be in a slightly floating role to drop into midfield to collect the ball and/or help out defensively. The English forward has been doing this entire season and so should not be a problem for him. In the absence of a second striker, Marouane Fellaini would be expected to run into the box to increase the body count and hopefully get on the end of a set piece. Fletcher, on the other hand, should typically operate in a box to box role with Carrick stepping out from defense to reduce the gap between midfield and defense. Rafael and Buttner would be expected to reprise their typical fall back roles but with extra emphasis to protect the flanks and prevent crosses from Villa on the break.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): David de Gea; Rafael, Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, Alex Buttner; Marouane Fellaini, Darren Fletcher; Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata, Shinji Kagawa; Wayne Rooney.
Aston Villa are one of the clubs considered a permanent fixture in the Premier League. For the last many years, Villa has been reduced to a mid table side scruffing it out with the Fulhams and Swanseas for positional supremacy. Like United, Villa are also having a mercurial season unable to build a string of victories or even draws. Arguably with a better away record than home record, Aston Villa have lost 9 of their 16 home games this season compared to 5 out of 14 while on the road. Along the way they have claimed the scalp of two big boys – Manchester City and Chelsea. The latter in fact was a shock result only this month that could cost Chelsea the league title. Aston Villa will obviously look to inflict a defeat on the beleaguered Champions but even a draw would feel like a win for Villa who last took points from Old Trafford almost 5 years ago. Aston Villa are coming to this match off the back of a 1-4 defeat to Stoke that has increased the pressure on manager Paul Lambert with rumours abound that he may face the sack before the end of the season.
Lambert has had to deal with major headaches in choosing a back four that would effectively close down attacks. Aston Villa has had major concerns where its defence is concerned due to the regularity with which they leak goals through freak incidents or human errors. In their last outing against Stoke City, Nathan Baker was the criminal-in-chief whose actions allowed Stoke to score the first 3 of their 4 goals. Leandro Bacuna did not help the cause either with his wayward passing and inability to mark Arnautovic effectively and allowing Stoke to score the equaliser.
Ryan Bertrand and Ron Vlaar, though not exemplary, fared better than their compatriots. Bacuna will probably retain his RB position considering Aston Villa don’t have a speciaist RB while Nathan Baker may be dropped in favour of Ciaran Clark to start the game in front of Brad Guzan. In midfield, Aston Villa have been slightly happier with a bit of space to maneuver in terms of team selections. Karim El Ahmadi has been consistent for the club this season after an indifferent first season.
He did, however, go off injured in the first half itself against Stoke City. Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph however would be names that Paul Lambert would happily put on his team sheet first. Both the midfielders have had a consistent run in the middle of the park and with El Ahmadi are building some kind of partnership that can play more effectively in midfield. However, with El Ahmadi’s injury, Marc Albrighton may start the game alongside the two on the right flank. In the forward line, experienced camaigners Agbonlahor and Benteke have formed a solid partnership at the front. Andreas Weimann who usually partners the duo was substituted in the Stoke City game after injury but by the looks of it should be fit for the trip to Old Trafford and there seems to be no reason why Lambert should change the trio at the top.
Aston Villa will line up in their preferred 4-3-3 formation with the wide players aiming crosses into United’s box. United have been susceptible to movement in or near the box and Agbonlahor or Benteke could have a realistic chance of scoring for Villa if they can get into the box on every opportunity possible. Where Villa will have to concentrate especially hard is on their own defense. United will definitely play Mata down the middle and it may be in Villa’s interest to play a narrow game to not allow Mata to cross the ball out onto the wings. United’s fall backs are an ever present threat with both Evra and Rafael making overlapping runs on the wingers and frequently carrying the ball deep into the opponent’s half or crossing from the touchline. While Evra is expected to sit out this game, Rafael would still be an ever-present threat and Bertrand would have to be at his best to control the young Brazilian.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Brad Guzan; Leandro Bacuna, Ciaran Clark, Ron Vlaar, Ryan Bertrand; Marc Albrighton, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph; Andreas Weimann, Christian Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor
Key Match Facts
- United have lost to Villa only once in the last 36 encounters between the clubs. They have won the last 6 games against Villa, the last being a 3-0 victory at Villa Park in December.
- Following the loss to Manchester City, it is confirmed that United will finish this season with their lowest ever points tally in a Premier League season (hitherto 75 points).
- If Aston Villa can avoid defeat on Saturday, they will become the 10th club this season to leave Old Trafford with points.
Manchester United 2 – 0 Aston Villa
Player to watch out
In a sea of mediocrity and indifferent displays, Wayne Rooney has been the pivotal character for United this season. He is everywhere on the pitch attacking one minute and helping out in defence the next. His brace against West Ham also showed that he still possesses the skills of a striker of vision and reflexes. With a new contract and captaincy for next season virtually confirmed, Wayne Rooney may be entering the most significant period of his Manchester United career where he has the opportunity to define the direction the club takes in a time of flux.