Premier League | Villa Park | Fri 14 Aug | 7:45pm
Unconvincing opening-day winners battle under the Friday night lights.
ASTON VILLA FORM
- B’mouth 0-1 Villa (Prem)
- N Forest 3-3 Villa (F)
- Wolves 2-2 Villa (F)
- Walsall 1-1 Villa (F)
- Swindon 0-2 Villa (F)
MAN UTD FORM
- Man Utd 1-0 Spurs (Prem)
- PSG 2-0 Man Utd (F)
- Barca 1-3 Man Utd (F)
- San Jose 1-3 Man Utd (F)
- Club America 0-1 Man Utd (F)
If it wasn’t the start to the Premier League season we all wanted, it was perhaps the one we should have known to expect. Manchester United’s win over Spurs last Saturday lunchtime was bereft of fireworks but, in the manner seen throughout last term, they blundered through and eventually saw off what had been a spirited initial challenge from their visitors.
It got Louis van Gaal and his new-look company up and running and, while something still doesn’t seem quite right about the team’s balance and control, there is already a sense that they will find the wherewithal to eke out results when it matters.
Now they take this gutsiness, spawniness or whatever else you might call it to Villa Park for that rarity – a Friday night top-flight fixture. These might become a regular thing if the powers that be have their way, but for now you can ‘thank’ the EDL for this alteration to your social plans – their planned march in Walsall on Saturday afternoon prompted police to switch the match, with United unable to play on Sunday due to Tuesday’s Champions League play-off tie with Club Brugge.
Will this be worth hanging on for before you hit the town? Difficult to say, because Aston Villa were fairly average themselves at Bournemouth last week but – to give them their due – came away with a win that they hadn’t really been fancied to get.
That came as a result of a crashing header from Rudy Gestede, who must be in contention to start this one, and it made for a satisfying beginning for a Tim Sherwood-managed side that included five debutants – three of them named Jordan – from the start.
Villa could be forgiven a lack of cohesion, especially given the untimely departures of Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke; you could probably say the same for United, who started against Spurs with four new boys themselves – right-back Matteo Darmian probably impressing the most.
All of which points to a match light on cohesion and heavy on quick background checks about Jordan Veretout’s strengths and weaknesses to impress your friends – but it’s unlikely to be dull and the early carrot of a place atop the Premier League is a decent enough reason for both to be operating at full throttle.
Villa seem likely to tie up the signing of Barcelona’s precocious 19-year-old forward Adama Traore, although it will probably come too late for a debut here. Jores Okore and Gary Gardner are still out but Jack Grealish and Carles Gil have returned to training – although again, this Friday fixture probably comes too soon for them. Sherwood’s biggest dilemma may be whether to start with Gestede – who you would fancy in the air against Chris Smalling and stand-in centre-back Daley Blind – in place of Jordan Ayew.
For United, Marouane Fellaini is suspended and Phil Jones’ thrombosis keeps him on the sidelines. Bastian Schweinsteiger had a useful half-hour against Spurs but will probably be confined to the bench again as he builds up his fitness. Sergio Romero, despite blowing hot and cold against Spurs, is likely to retain his place with Van Gaal confirming that seemingly want-away David de Gea is not in the squad for the game.
Key battle: Micah Richards vs Wayne Rooney
No, you’ve not been transported back to 2007. These two are once again firmly centre-stage – and centre-back, in Richards’ case. The former England man only turned 27 in June, and if Sherwood can harness the talents of a player who lost his way at Manchester City, Villa may have found one of the bargains of the summer. Richards played in the heart of the defence, alongside Ciaran Clark, at Bournemouth and it remains to be seen whether this will be the way of things upon Okore’s return.
Richards should be pitched up against Rooney, whose talents are never far from discussion but who has been banked on by Van Gaal as United’s centre-forward bet for this season. It is a vote of confidence and a surprise to those who detected a decline in the 29-year-old’s work, but Rooney has always been good for a goal every couple of games even when attempting to cover every blade of grass, and some focus up top in a better-oiled Manchester United machine could pay rich dividends.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 3-1 Villa (PL, Apr 15)
- Villa 1-1 United (PL, Dec 14)
- United 4-1 Villa (PL, Mar 14)
- Villa 0-3 United (PL, Dec 13)
- United 3-0 Villa (PL, Apr 13)
These two have only come up against each other once, when Van Gaal’s United saw off Sherwood’s Villa 3-1 at Old Trafford in April. Only three of the players who started for the visitors that day are likely to do so this time: through choice and necessity, Sherwood has made wholesale changes to his squad during the summer but he says Villa are on positive mood going into Friday’s fixture. “There’s a spring in everyone’s step,” he chirped. “On Friday we want to give [the fans] a good weekend.”
It could be a lively old match-up, with neither manager shy of shooting from the hip or, indeed, of a little self-promotion. Both would certainly feel, if three points were to be bagged here, that they were taking their clubs – which have stuttered badly in different ways – in the right direction.
Facts and figures
- Aston Villa have not beaten Manchester United at home in the Premier League since August 1995 (D7 L12).
- Wayne Rooney has scored more Premier League goals against Aston Villa than any other side (13).
- Since the start of 2013/14, Rudy Gestede has scored 20 headed league goals; more than anyone else in the top four tiers of English football.
More FFT Stats Zone facts for Villa-United
Another tough examination for United but another that, by hook or by crook, they pass. 2-1 to the visitors.