Having turned in a five-star showing against relegation strugglers AFC Bournemouth, red hot and rampant Manchester United face another side deep in danger from the drop – an Aston Villa team facing an immediate return to the Championship. Jack Grealish faces his potential future employers, with Villa only a point and a place outside the drop zone but winless in nine.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has settled on a regular, first choice line up, naming an unchanged XI for the last three league games in a row – that hasn’t happened since 2006. We do expect Ole to make a couple of changes for this one, though, with the games coming thick and fast and Victor Lindelof an injury doubt.
Villa Park has been a happy hunting ground for the Reds, as the away venue where we’ve recorded the most victories. Another win is an absolute must on Thursday with a place in the top four at stake.
In goal, David de Gea will again maintain his record of starting in every Premier League game this season. Made another error against Bournemouth, getting caught out too easily by Stanislas. Fortunately, it didn’t cost United but he’ll be disappointed to miss out on a third consecutive clean sheet. The hosts, 18th in the table with time and games running out, are the fourth lowest scorers in the division and not one Villa player has made it into double figures for goals. We don’t expect a busy evening for De Gea, but you never quite know what you’re going to get from him.
Solskjaer will almost certainly go with a back four, with his first choice full-backs Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw down the right and left respectively. This would be Shaw’s 17th successive start, and although Brandon Williams could be given a chance, we see no reason why Shaw won’t keep his place. A consistent but understated and quietly impressive presence at the back, Shaw will again be tasked with getting forward and linking with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. On the right, AWB has also been Mr Consistent, hardly ever having a bad game and a marked improvement in his attacking play. These two will be at the heart of United’s back four for many seasons to come. Harry Maguire has barely missed a minute as a virtual ever present and will again marshal the defence as the captain looks to keep Keinan Davis and Grealish quiet. Maguire made a rare mistake against Bournemouth but has been another largely consistent performer. With Victor Lindelof a doubt for the game through a back problem, we expect Ole to make one change in this area of the team, with Eric Bailly set to deputise in the Swede’s absence. The Ivorian is either very good or alarmingly erratic, but his pace complements Maguire well and if he can simplify his game more, then he’s a good player. Bailly conceded the penalty and looked shaky having come on at half-time against the Cherries, but shouldn’t have too much trouble here.
We expect Solskjaer to again go with the double pivot, but instead of Nemanja Matic, Fred will be restored to the team. The Serbian has been magnificent of late but possibly looked a little leggy against Bournemouth having played a lot of football recently. With United’s fourth game in twelve days and the games coming thick and fast, a little rest for the 31-year-old wouldn’t go amiss. Paul Pogba is enjoying an impressive renaissance in a deeper lying role, but with licence to get forward and link with the front four. Fred brings energy, mobility and can use the ball well, he’s a different type of player to Matic but can do just as good a job. Matic, fresh from signing a new three-year deal, will be saved for Southampton on Monday.
The front four all pick themselves at present. We cannot go with anyone other than Mason Greenwood on the right, Marcus Rashford on the left and Anthony Martial up top with Bruno Fernandes pulling the strings in the no.10 role. Fernandes has transformed the football club and Mason, Marcus and Martial have outscored Liverpool’s much-vaunted trio this season. It’s great to have a first choice, regular best XI without the constant chopping and changing.
United predicted XI vs Aston Villa: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Bailly, Shaw; Fred, Pogba; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial