Aston Villa v Man Utd: Preview
This Sunday, Manchester United will travel to Villa Park to play 11th place Aston Villa. United finds itself 9th in the table with just three points separating the Red Devils from their Sunday opponents. Both teams are coming off a loss—David Moyes' men have lost two games in a row—and will be looking to reverse their fortunes, hoping to creep closer to the coveted European places.
Both teams have a number of injury issues and pivotal players who will be out of the 16th match of the Premier League season.
Robin van Persie will miss roughly a month with a thigh injury while Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher have also been ruled out. Marouane Fellaini, Chris Smalling, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra are all listed as doubtful meaning that United could potentially be without their best players in each area of the pitch: van Persie up front, Carrick in midfield and Vidic at the back.
Jores Okore remains out for Villa, as does Charles N'Zogbia, and Fabian Delph, who's been in great form this season, incurred a red card suspension and will too be out. Gary Gardner, Libor Kozak, Ron Vlaar, Antonio Luna and Joe Bennett are all listed as doubtful.
Paul Lambert has used a host of formations throughout the season so pinpointing the system he'll employ is difficult. Nevertheless, Brad Guzan will start in goal behind a defense featuring Ciaran Clark, Nathan Baker and Chris Herd. Matthew Lowton and, should he be deemed fit, Antonio Luna could be the right and left wingbacks respectively. With Delph sidelined, Leandro Bacuna could step into the starting eleven alongside Ashley Westwood and Karim El Ahmadi in midfield. Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor will lead the line for the Midlands club.
David De Gea will start between the sticks for United and he'll be shielded by a defense of Rafael, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans and either Alexander Buttner or Patrice Evra. Phil Jones will have to deputize in midfield, presumably alongside Tom Cleverley, while Belgian wunderkind Adnan Januzaj and Nani will start on the flanks.
Moyes' most interesting decision will be the direction he decides to go at striker and central attacking midfielder. Wayne Rooney, the first-choice attacking midfielder, is also highly effective at striker and should the former Everton manager choose to allow Rooney to reprise the centre-forward role, it'll give the forgotten Shinji Kagawa a rare starting chance.
Kagawa probably already has his bags packed as he's simply too talented a player to have played in only six of United's fifteen matches. The Japanese international loses a great deal of efficacy on the flanks, but as a No. 10, there are few better, as evidenced by him pushing Mario Gotze out wide during his time under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund. Kagawa will be playing to raise his stock and convince a top club to move for him in January, so we could see the Kagawa of old come to the fore.
If Moyes chooses to keep Rooney as the No. 10, I'd expect Javier Hernandez to be given as the lone striker in United's 4-2-3-1.
A 3-5-2 for Villa could be particularly effective as crowding the midfield and putting pressure on United could unsettle the Red Devils' midfield. Phil Jones is more comfortable as a centre-back and Tom Cleverley doesn't inspire much confidence, so if Ashley Westwood and Karim El Ahmadi can harry them all over the pitch, Villa will receive a major boost.
Another area to keep your eye on is out wide as Nani and Januzaj will have to look to exploit the space behind Lowton and Luna when they foray forward. Januzaj has been somewhat of a revelation and Nani is still a player with superior individual ability meaning that either player has the quality to carve out a match-winning moment.
Benteke and Agbonlahor present a great foil up front as the physically imposing Belgian and the speedy Englishman give Villa a great mix of size and pace. Rio Ferdinand's best days are behind him so an increased onus will be placed on Jonny Evans.
After making a number of additions in the summer, Villa is perhaps living up to expectations as a mid-table outfit, while United is flat out underachieving. Three points at this stage is crucial and if United fail to get a result, their European chances will take yet another, unwanted hit. The Villans have a number of impressive results this season including a 3-1 win away at Arsenal and a 3-2 win at home against Manchester City, and will be looking to add another marquee victory to their resume.
Aston Villa 1 : 2 Manchester United