Villa’s Clash with United: A Test of Champions League Aspirations
Premier League Rivalry Heats Up
The visit of Manchester United to Villa Park will be one of the eye-catching fixtures of the Premier League. After looking unbeatable at home, Aston Villa have now lost successive matches, both by a scoreline of 3-1. It is a worry and Erik Ten Hag will sense the nervousness this weekend. A few weeks ago, this would have looked like an easy home win, but the fortunes of both clubs have changed and United will fancy their chances. They have the pace in attack to expose Villa’s high line. This is a big test of Unai Emery and Villa’s Champions League hopes.
Aston Villa’s Resolve Under Scrutiny
Aston Villa remain in fourth position, but they are only eight points above Manchester United before this fixture. A loss would ramp up the pressure on Villa, as United would then move within touching distance. The losses to Newcastle United and Chelsea have shown some vulnerabilities. Every team goes through a rough patch and getting into Europe’s elite competition was never going to be easy. That said, Villa are still well-placed and they have a manager who has been through nearly everything in the sport. They will be confident that they can bounce back this weekend.
Manchester United’s Momentum
It has been a good few weeks for Manchester United after successive league wins. Wolves and West Ham are both top-half teams, therefore Ten Hag should take confidence from the six points. This weekend offers a huge test of their top four credentials. If they want to get back into the Champions League, they need to beat Villa and decrease the gap between the two sides. They won their earlier meeting of the two clubs and bounced back from 2-0 down on that day.
In their six matches in 2024, Aston Villa have only scored more than once in one game. That came last weekend when they put five past Sheffield United, but their lack of goals in the other five matches will be a concern.
Manchester United are the only team in the top half with a negative goal difference. It is currently -1.
Ollie Watkins has emerged as one of the most consistent strikers in the Premier League since the appointment of Unai Emery. The Spanish coach has utilised his forward effectively and he offers a dual threat in the final third, as he can create and score goals. He already has 11 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League. Watkins is the first player to reach double figures for both goals and assists in the 2023/24 campaign. It is an impressive record and he will likely contribute a lot more goals before the season ends. Manchester United have still been conceding chances to opposition teams. There will be chances for the England international to impact the game on Sunday. It would be a surprise if he didn’t add another goal or assist at the weekend.
This weekend, Manchester United need to expose the high line of Aston Villa. It is their biggest weakness and the visitors have the pace in attack to get in behind. If it is to succeed, they need the delivery to be on point and Bruno Fernandes is the one they will be relying on. The Portuguese international has had a quieter season than we have come to expect, but he remains one of the most important players in the United team. In the last two matches, he has contributed an assist in each. This suggests that he could be getting back to his best and he will be confident going into the match at Villa Park.
Lucas Digne is getting closer to a return and he could be back involved on Sunday. Ezri Konsa has been ruled out until March, while Emi Buendia and Tyrone Mings are long-term absentees.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is unlikely to be available for the trip to Villa Park. Mason Mount and Tyrell Malacia are both getting closer to returns, but Lisandro Martinez has been ruled out for several weeks. Raphael Varane will come back into the team.
Predicting the Unpredictable
This is a more difficult game to predict than it would have been a few weeks ago. Aston Villa are showing frailties at home for the first time in over a year. There will be nervousness in the stands and the first goal could be crucial. Due to the successive losses at home and Manchester United’s improvement, it is possible Villa drop points again at home. An entertaining draw could be the outcome on Sunday.
Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United