United are back to Thursday football, and as ever, it’s a game that’ll heavily affect their chances of Champions League qualification.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær knows his men are far from the finished article – with the future in mind – while Dean Smith’s Aston Villa face a more immediate threat: relegation.
Heading into the final five, two teams with lots to play for, meet at one of English football’s most historic grounds.
Venue: Villa Park
Referee: Jon MossEmbed from Getty Images
Recent form: LLDLL
Top goalscorer: Jack Grealish 
Most assists: Jack Grealish 
Previous result: Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa
Reverse fixture: Manchester United 2-2 Aston Villa (own goal, Victor Lindelöf) (Jack Grealish, Tyrone Mingus)
Having played five games since the restart, Villa have picked up just two points from a possible 15 and are looking at a difficult set of final fixtures.
Although each outing has been relatively tight, Smith’s boyhood club are on the brink of relegation, now four points behind Watford in 17th.
Despite spending over £150m since their promotion last term, their hope lies in one of their own: Jack Grealish.
At the time of writing, lifelong Villain Grealish is only second to Kevin De Bruyne on chances created in the Premier League in 2019-20 and is by far the most fouled player in the top flight.
There’s been heavy speculation linking the captain, who often makes the headlines for a mix of wrong and right reasons, to Old Trafford where he scored a wonder goal to give his side the lead in the reverse fixture.
The 24-year-old first broke through in 2015 before Villa were famously relegated and has come back with a bang, scoring seven and laying on seven this season.Embed from Getty Images
In his pre-match press conference, Solskjær praised him, saying: ‘There’s been lots said and talked about him and we need to be aware of him. Whoever is close to him, if he’s off the left, in the middle, on the right. What he does is attract players to him and create space for others.”
Home games against Crystal Palace & Arsenal and trips to Everton and West Ham United on the final day means Villa have to pick up surprise points at some stage – which could be tomorrow.
On the pitch in those games, you could hardly guarantee any starters given how many injuries and the selection issues Smith has faced through the campaign.
Pepe Reina took back his place between the sticks against Liverpool and looked solid but Norwegian Ørjan Nyland – who got away with that error against Sheffield United – has largely deputised for Tom Heaton this term.
Douglas Luiz is slowly improving and 22-year-old academy graduate Keinan Davis has been leading the line lately, so things aren’t all dim in Aston.
Injuries/suspensions (estimates returned)
- Björn Engels – leg (a few days)
- Tom Heaton – knee (six weeks)
- Matt Targett – hamstring (a few days)
- Wesley – knee (six weeks)
(4-3-3) Reina; Konsa, Hause, Mings, Taylor; McGinn, Luiz, Grealish; El-Ghazi, Davies, Trezeguet
Quote from the boss
“They are a very good team, they have improved but there is a lot of heart that we can take from our performance against Liverpool. We have to do the same against a team that are full of confidence. The belief is there because the players know that they have played well enough to win games.” – Dean Smith
Next match: Crystal Palace [H] Sunday, 12/07Embed from Getty Images
THE RED DEVILS
Overcoming scares at the start of both halves against Bournemouth, United’s attack shone last Saturday.
Mason Greenwood showed how clinical he could be with two shots and two goals, while Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford became the first pair of Red Devils to both reach 20 goals since the 2010-11 season.
Nemanja Matić impressed once again and was rewarded with a new contract on Monday, the same the equally impressive Bruno Fernandes was announced as the Club’s Player of the Month.
Meanwhile, Paul Pogba dictated play in a deep-lying role, where he has previously impressed in major tournaments for France.
Having selected the same starting XI for three games in a row for the first time since 2006, Solskjær will be keen not to disrupt the clear harmony in his team.
However, one change could be forced. Victor Lindelöf made way for Eric Bailly at half-time on Saturday and the manager said yesterday: “It’s not too bad. He’ll play soon.
“I’m not sure if he’ll manage the Villa game, but he might do.”
Also in defence, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who again looked more competent in the final third at the weakened, is the subject of our pre-game player focus.Embed from Getty Images
It seems no one can quite predict whether or Scott McTominay will come in to give Matić a rest in the rest of the XI largely stays the same.
On the point, Solskjær told reporters: “Scott is still a young boy, seven or eight years younger than Nemanja. Nemanja’s been on record saying how much he can see himself in Scott. They can bounce off each other.”
Having conceded the most goals in the division before this week, the front three should be licking their lips. So too Odion Ighalo and Daniel James, who looked sharp in cameos against Bournemouth.
This morning on the opposition who shocked Old Trafford with a 2-2 draw in December, he praised them by saying: “Villa have shown they can hold their own since the restart — all their games have been tight.
“They have worked on their shape and their counterattacks are some of the most powerful in the league.”
United have not lost in 20 trips to the famous Midlands ground and now, if they win their remaining five games, they’ll definitely finish inside the top four places.
Injuries/suspensions (estimated return)
- Phil Jones – knock (doubtful)
- Victor Lindelöf – back (late assessment)
- Axel Tuanzebe – knock (next season)
(4-2-3-1) De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw; Matić, Pogba; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
Quote from the boss
“Sixteen games unbeaten gives us more confidence, but 16 games is nowhere near what a Man Utd team should strive towards. We can still go many more games unbeaten if we focus on the right things.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjær
Next match: Southampton [H] Monday, 13/07Embed from Getty Images
POTENTIAL KEY BATTLES
– Anwar El-Ghazi vs Luke Shaw
– Jack Grealish vs Nemanja Matić
– Eric Konsa vs Marcus Rashford
Enjoy the match!