There’s no escaping the fact that Manchester United’s last two games have been convincing wins. The anti-United pundits can spout their usual nonsense about Liverpool and Spurs failing to turn up but we know the truth. Neither side was allowed to turn up because Van Gaal implemented a strategy that nullified the opposition from the very first minute. No side goes to Anfield and plays them off the park like we did in that first half – especially not United in what is, let’s be honest, Liverpool’s annual cup final. To do what we did should not be underestimated. It was sensational.
So with Aston Villa visiting Old Trafford this weekend the game has taken on the air of a foregone conclusion. And why shouldn’t it? Sandwiched between games against Spurs, Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea, this home tie against lowly Villa has long been identified as three points we must take. Must being the operative word. Have no illusions, United have to win this game. Ideally we want to see a repeat of the performances in the last two games but if the choice is between a swashbuckling great advert for football five all draw and a last minute winner off the referee’s backside in a game Villa deserved to win. I’ll be celebrating the referee’s rear end. Yes we want good football from United but we need three points.
Have no doubts, like a can of baked beans at a firing range Villa are there to be blown away. United need to go out from minute one like we have in our last two games and dominate them. Press them from the start and Villa will crumble. We’ve already dropped 2 points to them this season – playing the last half an hour at Villa Park against ten men and nearly losing – so it’s payback time. And for all Tim Sherwood’s bravado about coming to Old Trafford and giving us a game, if Villa come to Manchester and try to play they’ll end up getting a slap and a firm warning about their future behaviour at the theatre of dreams.
I’ve seen Aston Villa a few times this season and there really is nothing to fear. In years gone by Villa could be a threat away from home, building their performances on a strong defence, an industrious and hardworking midfield, and hitting the channels of the opposition with pace on the flanks. Those days are gone. Two years of Paul Lambert’s negativity has stifled Villa’s ability to effectively attack sides and although the appointment of Sherwood will see a more progressive style of play they are in the midst of a relegation battle where points are more important than performance. Destroying a poor Sunderland side away doesn’t make them any more of a threat than a green salad at Christmas.
Man for man Villa just don’t have the players to concern United. It’s not arrogance but not one of the Aston Villa squad would make it anywhere near our subs bench, let alone the first team. Fabian Delph is a hardworking midfielder who, whilst a decent player, will never be top four standard. The same goes for Agbonlahor, a decent player who on his day can cause problems but has never been better than the club he’s spent all his career at. Then there’s Benteke, who looks about as interested in his Villa career as a vegetarian in a butchers. And that’s it. The rest of the Villa squad is made up of mediocrity who to be frank are best suited to sides battling it out in the bottom half of the Premier League.
Sherwood will say they’re coming to win but the facts don’t lie. Aston Villa are three points off the relegation zone with a slightly better goal difference than those below them. A comprehensive beating by United could see them consigned to the bottom three come Easter Sunday. Not many teams come back from that. They also have QPR at home on Tuesday evening. A game they must win. So in many ways the United game is a hindrance. Villa simply can’t afford to use up valuable energy on a game they have a very slim chance of getting anything out of. Their only option is to sit deep, conserve energy for the six pointer against QPR, and look to hit United on the break.
The only thing United have to fear is their own complacency. Villa will park the bus and gift United the possession. We need to show the desire and patience to keep probing away until we get that breakthrough. And with Fellaini in the side we can mix things up a bit and throw the odd high ball in to the box if needs be.
And if it is approaching the ninetieth minute and it’s still nil nil don’t panic. Aston Villa’s last two losses have come from late goals from the opposition. And there’s always the referee’s backside….