Villa Park has been a favoured stomping ground for Manchester United over the years. Of the last 33 league encounters, Villa have only won one, and that away from home. After seeing his team score at least 2 goals in the last 9 games, Sir Alex will be looking to continue his Manager of the Month performances into November and will hope that Saturday’s evening match up follows the form-book.
Aston Villa are very much in a transition stage of their development as a football club. They approached the 2010/11 season with such optimism; they had just finished 6th in the league the year before and were competing in the Europa League after a narrow defeat to Manchester United in the League Cup Final. But, days before the start of the season, their mastermind Martin O’Neil quit and they were dumped out in the Europa League’s playoffs by Rapid Vienna. Since then it has all been downhill. Finishing a respectable 9th in their first O’Neill-less season under Gérard Houllier, and then Gary McAllister after Houllier’s heart problems, Villa looked like they would recover well. However, the year after, Alex McLeish and lost both Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, dealing the Villains a blow they have yet to recover from. After a 16th place finish last season, they now find themselves teetering on the relegation precipice in 17th position.
If form continues for Villa, they will not be escaping the relegation mire anytime soon. They have won twice in ten games this season, and before last weekend’s victory away at hapless Sunderland (ironically managed by Martin O’Neill), had lost 3 out of 5. Their lengthy injury list is adding to a mounting list of problems for the midlands club. Joe Bennett is doubtful, leaving only one recognised available left back in the club in Enda Stevens, after Eric Lichaj picked up his 5th yellow card of the season in his last outing. Stevens, 22, is an Irish u21 international, and joined from Shamrock Rovers in January, and will be looking to make only his second league appearance for Villa. Miss-firing £24million striker, Darren Bent, is still injured, meaning Christian Benteke is likely to start.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United on the other hand look as spritely as ever, as they go in search of a lucky 13th Premier League title, powered by their frighteningly explosive attacking force. With Chris Herd and Richard Dunne also out for Villa, it could be a long evening for the home side. Sir Alex’s hand has been forced slightly with regards to starting XI, with Nani joining Kagawa, Jones and Vidic on the sidelines. Evans, having received a knock midweek, should start, meaning the United XI could look similar, if not the same, as last weekend’s crushing of ‘the’ Arsenal. Indeed, the Red Devil’s are on a roll at the moment, after dispatching Chelsea and the Gunners in successive weekends before Robin van Persie and Rooney secured United’s 7th come from behind win of the season against Braga. The strikers in particular will be looking forward to the Villa Park encounter, scoring a league high of 26 goals so far this season, in comparison to Villa’s meagre offering of 8. Yet, as any footballer will know, they shouldn’t count their chickens yet with Villa sure to be pumped up, especially after a much needed victory over Sunderland last weekend
The greatest issue for Aston Villa is certain to be at left back. Although Enda Stevens played 15 times in the Europa League for Shamrock Rovers and won the PFAI Young Player of the year last year, he has made only a single substitute appearance in the League for Villa. Whilst Valencia was poor last weekend against Arsenal, he will be relishing a match up against the 22 year old Irishman. Lambert will have to account for his lack of strength in the left of his defence and so compromises will have to be made, meaning spaces could open up in other parts of the pitch.
Unsurprisingly, Villa will play in a combative manner, and against Sunderland last week they recorded 20 tackles and 17 fouls. Whilst trying to remain firm at one end, they will look to spring on the break, utilising the pace of Agbonlahor and the power of Benteke. Although the two have yet to gel as a pairing, Villa will be relying on the strikers to feed on limited scraps as United will undoubtedly dominate possession, as Villa have only come out with over 50% in two games so far this season.
For Manchester United, the game plan is simple. Expect wide, expansive football, with Robin van Persie’s movement and touch creating opportunities for himself and others.
United’s firepower will east them past a struggling Villa side, who have scored the least goals but for Sunderland and QPR in the Premier League so far this season. I predict a comfortable 3-0 win, with David de Gea merely a passive bystander.