Match Preview: Aston Villa Vs Manchester United
Chelsea’s victory over Arsenal at the weekend pretty much turned the title chase into a two-horse race. I don’t want to completely count out the Gunners just yet, they’re capable of beating anyone else but United and Chelsea would have to drop a lot of points between them and it seems highly unlikely Arsenal will come out on top, to say the least.
On Wednesday United face a trip to Aston Villa, the only team who have left Old Trafford with all three points this season. That was on the 12th of December, and it wasn’t a great time for United as they suffered a heavy defeat at Fulham the following week. They did beat Wolves in the middle of the losses to Villa and Fulham but that was a second-string Wolves side, which boss Mick McCarthy received some heavy criticism for.
This time around Villa enjoy the home advantage, but they head into this in poor form having won just once in their last six games. United are finally starting to hit their peak, or at least their best form so far this season. Wayne Rooney is in electric form, even Carlo Ancelotti admitted his admiration for the England international this week, and the rest of the players are starting to pick up their own performances as well. The match is also a bit of a warm up for the Carling Cup final at the end of the month, no doubt that will be discussed in the build up and aftermath of this encounter. Sometime when teams meet each other twice in quick succession it can throw up a few surprises Sir Alex Ferguson and United have the experience to deal with this kind of thing and I doubt it will be a major issue.
Nani in particular has impressed over the last couple of weeks, which comes as a bit of a surprise if I’m being totally honest. I had basically written him off and expected him to be heading off in January but credit to Nani, he has really upped his game. If Nani continues to put in the kinds of performances he did against Arsenal and Pompey the Portuguese winger could prove vital in the title race. I’m not getting too carried away with Nani’s performances, he needs to do it on a consistent basis but it is definitely an encouraging sign and a bit of creativity and spark from midfield has perhaps been missing for a while now.
In terms of team news Nemanja Vidic may make his return against Villa after his calf injury, although new England captain Rio Ferdinand is still suspended. Wes Brown and Johnny Evans kept a clean sheet against Portsmouth but Villa are a different proposition and will certainly cause more problems than Pompey. Aside from Vidic and Ferdinand United are at pretty much full-strength, with just long-term absentees John O’Shea and Owen Hargreaves ruled out.
Villa may head into this one in a poor run of form but they’ve got no serious injury worries with just Nigel Reo-Coker and Stephen Warnock ruled out ahead of United’s visit. The danger men for Villa are likely to be Ashley Young, James Milner and Gabriel Agbonlahor, all of whom are capable of causing even the best sides problems. John Carew and Emile Heskey are both great target men, I would argue Carew is the better of the two but Martin O’Neill seems to prefer Heskey at the moment.
Villa may have left Old Trafford with all three points but I expect United to get their revenge on Wednesday and come away with the points. Villa aren’t in great form at the moment and Ferguson’s men should be full of confidence after that comprehensive victory over Pompey. It won’t be easy, Villa Park is always a tricky place to go, but United should be fired up for this one. Chelsea face a difficult trip to Everton, the only team who have left Stamford Bridge with a point this season, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that as well on Wednesday night.
Written by Gareth Freeman, a sports writer who blogs about horse racing Ireland, Manchester United and the Grand National 2010.