Manchester United can temporarily go level on points with Premier League leaders Liverpool if they are able to beat Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Friday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the Manchester United fans in merryland as the club find themselves sitting second on the Premier League table, thanks to a narrow 1-0 stoppage time win over Wolves during the midweek. Unbeaten in 9 league games now, Manchester United will be put to the test once again in what will be their first match in 2021 as a high-flying Aston Villa pay Old Trafford a visit on Friday Night.
The Red Devils will find motivation in the prospect of going level with Liverpool at the top, with goal difference the only likely differential, if they do win against Aston Villa on New Year’s. The match is far from a foregone conclusion at this point though, with Villa coming into the match with their own unbeaten streak of 5 league games, their longest this season.
Dean Smith has worked his magic, making Aston Villa a defensive powerhouse at the base, which is evidenced by the fact that they have conceded the second least number of goals (14) this season, averaging just 1 per game. Villa also have a considerably greater goal difference (+14) compared to Manchester United (+8) and will have their own aim in mind – a potential re-entry into the top four depending on other results.
Their last visit to Old Trafford ended in a 2-2 draw, with Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings starring for the away side. Ahead of Manchester United vs Aston Villa on Friday night, let us take a closer look at the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
Manchester United will be without Edinson Cavani, who will be serving the first of his three-match suspension on accounts of potentially racist connotations about his Instagram post. Victor Lindelof is the only key player that is a doubt for the match and is likely to be assessed on the day of the match.
Eric Bailly’s return to fitness has galvanized the backline for Manchester United and Solskjaer will now be more comfortable in providing Lindelof a rest or an extra match on the sidelines for full recovery, with the Ivorian set to partner Harry Maguire in central defence.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 31, 2020
Luke Shaw should get the nod over Alex Telles purely based on Solskjaer’s intent to be defensively solid against Aston Villa. Aaron Wan-Bissaka will guard the right flank.
The main battle, though, will be fought in midfield, with Fred and Scott McTominay the pillars for Manchester United. The pivot duo has become a key feature in United’s games and Solskjaer would hope the scraps for second balls would be won by them. Fred’s close ball control will also come in handy against a pressing Aston Villa side.
There’s no looking past the trio of Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in attack. They have been in form for United recently and should comfortably start in attack. The last spot will be an interesting choice and will come down to Solskjaer’s preference of going with an additional forward, a pace threat or an infusion of creativity.
The manager might give a start to Juan Mata, who has been so influential in his cameo role this season, to add that creativity required to unlock a sturdy Aston Villa defence.
Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles and Paul Pogba all remain options that are likely to be considered as substitutes by the manager, whenever needed in the game on Friday Night.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; Mata, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
Dean Smith will welcome Tyrone Mings back from his suspension, with Aston Villa only without Trezeguet and Wesley for the New Year’s Day bout. Emiliano Martinez has been a dream signing for Villa with the effect he has had since coming in from Arsenal and will be in goal against Manchester United.
Dean Smith prefers little chopping and changing and is likely to stick with the same players that started in the 1-1 draw against Chelsea. The only swap would come in defence, with Tyrone Mings returning to the starting lineup replacing Ezri Konsa. Kortney Hause, Matt Targett and Matty Cash will complete the backline, one that has conceded just 3 goals away this season.
Douglas Luiz and John McGinn will form the double pivot while the likes of Jack Grealish, Anwar El Ghazi and Bertrand Traore will support the attack. Dean Smith will hope Ollie Watkins can strut his stuff against Manchester United as he did against Liverpool.
Ross Barkley will also be an option to inject some fresh legs into the midfield and could come on for Traore later on in the game.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Cash, Hause, Mings, Targett; Luiz, McGinn; Traore, Grealish, El Ghazi; Watkins
1. Manchester United to win @ 1.75
1. Manchester United to WIN to NIL @ 3.60
1. Aston Villa have conceded just 3 goals in 7 away league games so far.
2. Manchester United come into the game on the back of a nine-game unbeaten streak in the 2020/21 Premier League.
3. Battle of the Midfield – It will be Bruno Fernandes vs Jack Grealish on Friday Night, with the Portuguese having 17 goal contributions in the current season compared to Grealish’s 11.
4. Searching for Home Form – Marcus Rashford has 7 Premier League goals to his name. But, only one has come at home, that too this past midweek in the 1-0 win over Wolves.
5. Since his brace away at Arsenal, Ollie Watkins is without a goal in his last 7 Premier League appearances.
Player to Watch
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 31, 2020
Aston Villa will be looking at Manchester United’s games this season and be wary of their weakness in defending set-pieces. And this is where Grealish will be key for Villa, apart from being the main man to drive the attacking impetus for the away side.
The English international was the most fouled player in the top five leagues in Europe in 2020 and will be looking to earn dead-ball situations in dangerous areas for his team on Friday night. Although Villa are a well-rounded side, Grealish is the main threat, creating the third most chances in Europe in 2020 in the top five leagues as well.
For Manchester United, the cue will be simple from Solskjaer & his coaching team – keep Grealish as quiet and away from the goal as possible without committing too many fouls.
Manchester United 2-0 Aston Villa
The Old Trafford is slowly regaining its aura back, with Manchester United somewhat improving their home form. There is an air of certainty within the dressing room, which is so pleasing to see for the fans. The players and the manager seem to be on the same page and the results are showing.
The same goes for Aston Villa, though, and even more so, as no one would have predicted them to finish 2020 in top five of the current league table.
Manchester United have found solid defences hard to break down this season but Solskjaer’s potential decision to play Juan Mata could be the key to them winning another home tie. We expect a cagey encounter on Friday Night, with Manchester United likely to eke in a goal or two, thanks their indomitable attack.
A 2-0 win for the home side but everything depends on Solskjaer’s team selection, especially for the last man in the attacking quartet.