Despite Nath’s super optimistic forecast, the stark fact is that we’ve only won one of our last 43 Premier League games against United. That came 11 years ago at Old Trafford courtesy of a goal from Agbonlahor.
But more of that later.
We completed an unbeaten December with the draw at Chelsea which also saw us move up to 5th place in the table; who would have predicted that having performed a Houdini act in Project Restart to retain our place in the EPL?
Villa still top the table in average shots per game, and the defence registered four clean sheets in December, making eight in total – again the best in the League. Dean Smith claims he has found the balance for the team and tactics and its very hard to argue against it.
Villa’s squad players have stepped up to the mark to cover for injuries and suspensions and have perhaps surprised us all. Ever since El Ghazi knocked in the late penalty against Wolves, it has lit a fire under them all. This can only bode well as when (rather than if) we suffer more injuries and suspensions players will come into the team wanting to succeed and be part of the team out on the pitch. In fact, apart from the cup game against Stoke, the level of performance from the bench has been first class.
Whilst January is a difficult transfer window, if we could pick up a couple of players to further improve the squad that would give Smith more options and opportunities to rest players when necessary.
We start 2021 in the best position we have seen for years with real competition for places – absolutely vital for any top team – an excellent management team and two owners who seem to know what they are doing and have the financial clout to deliver.
It’s good to be a Villa fan again
I feel that tonight’s game against United is the real test of how far we’ve come.
Villa have shown that they can win games playing fast flowing football which is a joy to watch but they can also scrap it out when necessary. Smith has been tactically very good this season (apart from the Leeds game that is, when maybe the Liverpool result went to our heads?) – how much of this is down to Craig Shakespeare’s influence is hard to tell.
Make no mistake, United are a good team with any number of players that can hurt Villa and we’ll need to be right on our game if we’re going to take anything away from Old Trafford. Their stats show that they like possession and to play through teams and 31 goals from 26.22 xG demonstrates their efficiency going forward – although they don’t score many goals at home – reinforcing their standing as one of the most dangerous counter attacking sides in the division. Whilst, defensively they are likely to concede a goal, they are not as weak at the back as some would like to make out.
Much like JG, Bruno Fernandes is the player that makes them tick. He has ten goals and seven assists this season and is at the heart of transitioning the play between defence and attack.
For United, Cavani is suspended and Lindelof may be absent again with a back injury. United played their last game 24 hours after Villa, so we do have the benefit of extra recuperation time. It remains to be seen whether Solskjaer rotates his squad.
Villa have Mings available after his suspension and Barkley should be available after his hamstring – should it be another no show then some questions might be asked given his injury history. If Barkley is fit then I assume he would also come into the team but who makes way – El Gahzi or Traore – or does Smith start Barkley on the bench and keep faith with those who’ve started the last few games?
Will Mings comes straight back into the team? To drop Hause would be very harsh on the big defender who has shown an all round improvement in his game, but how badly would the team miss Mings organisational skills? Is it madness to question Ming’s inclusion in the team or does it demonstrate the current strength in the squad right now?
United are on a nine game unbeaten run whilst Villa have gone five unbeaten. Smith has to get it tactically spot on tonight and the players have to be on their game from the off if we to get anything from the game.
United are undoubtedly Villa’s nemesis and tonight might be as much about psychology as ability. The law of averages would suggest we are due a bit of luck and a win but probability would have it otherwise.
2020 has been a terrible year for so many people but we can look forward to 2021 with renewed hope, the end of lockdowns and the return of fans to Villa Park.
Happy New Year