Manchester United have yet to get going this season, after losing to Wolves in the Premier League on Monday night, but our attention now turns to Aston Villa in the FA Cup.
A result on Monday night would help lift the mood at Old Trafford because in recent days all we’ve heard is crisis talks and stories about unhappy players.
Having said all that, even if United beat Aston Villa which they should, it won’t calm tensions unless the players put in a convincing display. They have not been convincing all season so it would be naive to expect anything different for this fixture.
Looking ahead to a meeting between United and Villa in the FA Cup, The Villa Blog editor Damian Dugdale, shares his thoughts on the upcoming tie at Old Trafford.
First impressions of Steven Gerrard as manager?
Damien Dugdale: “This isn’t going to be surprising but first impressions are positive. The thing is, Gerrard has grown up in the game, so he knows what to say and when and how and he’s doing everything and saying everything that we want. But we’ve won half of the games, so there aren’t any complaints and lots of reasons for optimism.
“Ask me again at the end of the 23/24 season and I’ll have a firm opinion that is unlikely to change but if he brings in Coutinho, I’ll be very impressed.”
How difficult was in for Dean Smith without Jack Grealish this season?
Dugdale: “Jack will make most sides stronger and we are one of them, so him leaving to a side he isn’t making stronger was always going to have an impact on us. But it was also an opportunity and Dean Smith looked like he was taking it.
“We ultimately put too much on Jack and not enough on the other ten on the pitch. For sure, it was tough to lose him and because we put so much through him it was always going to have an impact but we brought in some good players that had Dean Smith been given the time, I’m sure would have come good for him by the end of the season and I’m sure he would have finished better than last season.”
Do you think Aston Villa can beat United and go on a run in the FA Cup?
Dugdale: “We can beat Manchester United, I’m not sure about a run in the FA Cup. But most sides can beat Manchester United at the moment. I mean no disrespect, but you don’t look like the Manchester United of old and Old Trafford isn’t feared like it once was. That will change and things will one day get back to normal, but you’re in that period of time now that Liverpool went through for a generation and until you find a manager with experience and stick with him, it’s going to be like this.
“But will we win? I don’t know. You’ve got so much quality in the side that you can look like the Manchester United of old at any time you want, it’s just that you don’t and you’ve got a manager that all the players know is gone soon, so it’s going to be hard for them to follow him like you need players to follow a manager.”
What are the strengths and weaknesses from this Villa side?
Dugdale: “The strengths are we appear to be playing as a team with a quite specific purpose in each match that everyone seems to understand what their role is. You might not think this a strength, but we haven’t seen this at Aston Villa for a long time and it’s because of Steven Gerrard. I hope it lasts and isn’t just down to new manager syndrome.
“Our weakness is we have a new manager that doesn’t yet fully know all the strengths of all the players. I hope this doesn’t last long also.
“I’m hesitant to name individual players because of what I’ve written above and because to consistently win you need to play football as a team and it looks like we are starting that journey. But we do have a couple of players that can create something special. Look out for them on Monday!”
Gerrard said he wanted to keep Tuanzebe but rarely played him. It’s clear Dean Smith has always been a fan, but do you agree with him being overlooked in the Villa XI?
Dugdale: “I don’t think he was better than what we had and I think his role was that of backup. I like him and I’d have liked to see him at Aston Villa and challenging, but we have players in that position and it should be our players backing up our players.”
Send us your scoreline prediction.
Dugdale: “I don’t like this but seeing as you asked, 5-0 Villa.”