BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
VENUE – Villa Park
KO – 1730 GMT
REFEREE – Kevin Friend
Table toppers Manchester United visit a struggling Aston Villa side that is just one spot away from the relegation zone. Paul Lambert has thus far failed to capture the imagination of the Villa faithful like Martin O’ Neill once did and the poor results aren’t doing him any favors. His problems could be compounded as Manchester United, the highest scorers in the league come to town. Robin van Persie is in red hot form and his partnership with Wayne Rooney is starting to yield good results. Aston Villa on the other hand have problem on every area of the pitch. In attack, their best striker Darren Bent has only scored 2 goals this season. When the top striker at the club is finding it tough to score goals, things are not going too well. They have only scored 8 goals compared to United’s 26. Even though Villa are at home it seems unlikely in the current scene that the home side will get anything from this game but for Lambert and his men this match may well be the turning point of the season. If they garner anything from the game it will be equivalent to a victory and will give them much needed inspiration for the rest of the season. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has made a habit of comebacks which is not very good. He will look to straighten that out but Villa is not the toughest of opposition and if things click United could just steamroll the home side.
Paul Lambert’s reign as Villa manager is in complete tatters. The club is in 17th position in the league and things aren’t looking any cozier. Manchester United are the visitors and it will definitely put more pressure if the home side were to lose this match. Given the form of both teams that is extremely likely. The Scot still is struggling to find out the best formation to suit the team and its players. Lambert will have to sort things out and quickly, else he will have to find a new job. The 4-4-2 formation which the Scot loves to deploy has failed miserably in the league so far and Lambert has to be flexible. His problems are compounded when Darren Bent was injured in training and there is no certainty as to how much time the English international will be out of action. Benteke, the Belgian striker signed from Genk in the summer has already made an impression and has scored 4 goals. Agbanlahor on the other hand has endured a tough time with only 1 goal this season. Defensively they have problems too. They have conceded 14 goals so far with only 8 scored. Manchester United too doesn’t have a very good defensive record but their goals at the right end cover that up. Villa does not have that luxury of a world class strike force. They have to shore up defenses and ensure the forwards do not always have to score the equalizer. Lambert is an excellent manager and is capable of turning things around for his team but the question is whether he will be given time to improve the situation? Manchester United, this season has been very deadly going forward with last year’s top scores Robin van Persie heading the charts and with Villa’s poor form, this match may end in a damage limitation exercise for Lambert.
The 3-1 score line in midweek against Braga flattered Manchester United. They were hardly dominant in the game and only a mistake from Beto, the Braga keepers allowed Persie to score and draw United level. They went on to score two more goals and eventually win but it was a performance which didn’t impress. The team was far too casual in their approach play and the ball in the final third was awful. Sir Alex Ferguson would have looked at that and would look to iron out the mistakes. Smalling, playing his first match of the season after a long injury lay off was impressive and looked at ease alongside Evans. Rooney, who was in the Scholes role, might have looked at complete ease in that position but he was far from effective and the team lost his hunger upfront. Welbeck, another player playing out of position was not very good. The young striker is at his best in the centre and Ferguson needs to deploy him there. Anderson who recently has been getting his fair share of games performed well. Manchester United, last weekend claimed top spot in the league and will be looking to consolidate their position against a struggling Villa side. David de Gea will be hoping for a clean sheet after he was denied last weekend by Carzola’s brilliant goal. The Spaniard is finally getting a constant run in the side and has been steadily improving but the clean sheets are hard to come by this season but with United improving on the defensive front, things might just change the young keeper.
LAST 5 HEAD TO HEAD FIXTURES
15/04/2012 EPL Man Utd vs Aston Villa 4 – 0
04/12/2011 EPL Aston Villa vs Man Utd 0 – 1
02/02/2011 EPL Man Utd vs Aston Villa 3 – 1
13/11/2010 EPL Aston Villa vs Man Utd 2 – 2
28/02/2010 Carling Cup Man Utd vs Aston Villa 2 – 1
Aston Villa – Paul Lambert has been struggling to find the best eleven this season. The Scot usually likes an attacking formation but thus far he is not been able to get the best out of his players. Christian Benteke, who was signed from Genk this summer has already impressed with 4 goals thus far and in the absence of Darren Bent, injured in training looks set to partner Gabriel Agbanlahor in attack. Given United’s attacking prowess Lambert might a 4-5-1 formation with the Agbanlahor shifted to the flanks. Stephan Ireland who had a torrid time last season has established himself in the team and is one of the first names on the team sheet. Brett Holman and Barry Bannan could be deployed on the wings if the manager does decide to attack the visitors. Shay Given, one of the best goalkeepers in the league has been kept out by an equally impressive Brad Guzan who has done well for the team. Ron Vlaar who took over the captaincy from Petrov has been in good form and his partnership with Clark has been one of the rare bright lights for Villa this season. Lowton and Bennett complete the back four
Manchester United – The weekend’s performance against Arsenal was pretty convincing from a defensive point of view. Even though Carzola scored a late goal United were at their best defensively. The mainstay of Ferdinand and Evans along with Rafael, Evra on the flanks has been one of the reasons for the improving defensive performances. Rafael has played more than any outfield player for United. The return of Smalling and Jones will ease the burden of the Brazilian who has been marked to exceed the achievements of former fan favorite and Captain Gary Neville. Darren Fletcher who has been very unlucky in the Champions League will be looking to feature against the Portuguese side. Cleverly and Anderson have both been in decent form might have to make way for Scholes and Carrick. Upfront United has the problem of plenty. The four strikers have shared the workload and Ferguson will be looking to give Rooney and Persie a rest whilst giving Hernandez and Welbeck some game time.
Aston Villa – Gabriel Agbanlahor –Even though the English striker has not been in good form this season, he is always dangerous and can turn the game on its head. He has been struggling this season but to be fair to him the whole Villa side has been. He will definitely be a threat and Paul Lambert will be hoping this is the match that his star player makes it count. Agbanlahor is quick and incisive. He has his best when he is running a defenders and United defender love to back off. He will be an important factor in this match given the fact that Darren Bent is out injured. He loves scoring against Manchester United and only Steven Gerrard is ahead of him in terms of goals scored against the Red Devils.
Manchester United – Robin van Persie– Manchester United were in a tough spot against Braga on Wednesday but the introduction of the Dutch striker changed all out. Even though the keeper made his work easy but he still had a lot to do and within a flash he brought United level. The signing of Persie has paid dividends thus far for Sir Alex Ferguson. He has breathed a new life into the club. He will be the man that Villa will have to control if they are to have any chance of getting anything from the game.
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