Complete Preview is here to give you all the information necessary before Manchester United v Aston Villa.
Words: Guy Poxon | @GuyPoxon
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A successful outing at Villa Park against ex-Villa boss Steve Bruce’s Newcastle will be followed by a trip to Old Trafford for a late Sunday kick-off.
Why should Aston Villa have confidence post-Newcastle?
The scoreline of 2-0 flattered Newcastle, who got away with not receiving a royal hiding by all accounts.
That will give Dean Smith positive feelings about the slightly different team he put out on Monday – it was attacking-minded, with the most unexpected change – Douglas Luiz in for Marvelous Nakamba – proving to work well.
Luiz racked up a 7.07 match rating in his deep-lying role against Newcastle and defensively looked incomparably more solid than he did against Wolves. He was dribbled past only once (compared to seven times against Wolves), and made one interception, two fouls and one clearance. He failed to do any of those things against Wolves.
It was a marked improvement by the Brazilian wonderkid defensively, and going forward he offered a lot; four shots on goal, two successful dribbles and great passing stats with two successful long balls and a 84.5% general accuracy.
Douglas Luiz vs. Marvelous Nakamba
Comparing Luiz to Nakamba overall, the Zimbabwean is ‘busier’ than his Brazilian peer.
Marvelous registers far more tackles per game – and more interceptions – also offering a drive forward. Nakamba is well liked by Villa fans because he gets forward well, usually providing a key pass or an accurate long ball once or twice a game. He racks up similar numbers to Luiz in this department.
Luiz, however, offers a direct goal threat, and Aston Villa fans have not seen a player who hits them from range as consistently well as Douglas for a long time. He has two goals to his name this season already, and you can’t help but feel that he’ll pick up a few more screamers this campaign.
Nakamba’s sweeping ability might earn him the shirt against United, at a famously difficult opposition for Aston Villa.
Perhaps picking Douglas Luiz shows more ambition in adding another dimension to Smith’s side.
Would it show Manchester United too much respect to start Marvelous Nakamba?
Then, and Now
There’s a question as to how far Manchester United have fallen and how much Aston Villa have improved since the sides last met.
The last time these teams met was at Old Trafford in April 2016, and United won 1-0 via a Marcus Rashford goal in the 32nd minute.
Both teams looked quite different:
Manchester United: De Gea (GK), Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Mata, Fellaini, Rooney, Depay, Rashford
Aston Villa: Guzan (GK), Cissokho, Clark, Lescott, Hutton, Westwood, Bacuna, Richardson, Gueye, Sinclair, Ayew
The cracks were starting to show for Manchester United in that line-up, and the loss of Wayne Rooney and Valencia, plus the spark of Smalling over in Rome really do show how much Manchester United have had to change over the last decade.
How big is the gap?
Manchester United Predicted Line-Up [4-2-3-1]: De Gea (GK), Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire (C), Williams, Fred, Matic, James, Mata, Rashford, Martial
Rashford, Mata and De Gea survive from that 2016 Manchester United squad – albeit at different stages in their careers. Mata and De Gea have stuttered a bit in recent years, but are both still capable of changing a game. They won’t, however, instil the same fear factor in Villa’s Premier League newcomers as they would have done in 2016.
Rashford, on the other hand, is probably Manchester United’s best player at the moment. With seven goals and four assists in 13 Premier League appearances, he’s become lethal on the wing – moving into central positions and teaming up with Anthony Martial.
He’s earned a 7.27 rating this season – high for a winger – and easily tops the xG charts in the squad with 8.78. Martial comes in second with 3.76. Marcus Rashford is still young, but looks to be turning into the player everyone hoped he’d be.
From a national team perspective, it’s sad to see people lose their excitement around Rashford – what a player he is.
A Game of Ratings
The gap between these teams has shrunk. Aston Villa now have a competitive squad, and you would hope for a good game.
For example, look at the average ratings of each player, by each position. The players are matched vs. their counterpart in each position (i.e Right-back vs. Left-back and Centre-attacking midfielder vs. Centre-defensive midfielder).
This table makes for interesting reading. It shows that Manchester United have a great strike force, and that defensively, it’s pretty close with Manchester United edging it with three out of five positions.
But, Aston Villa have better quality across their entire midfield, as well as on the left flank with Jack Grealish and Guilbert’s battle over in right-back against Williams.
Perhaps the gap in quality has closed enough that Aston Villa can really take the game to Manchester United. All things remaining equal, plus one or two good performances from Mings, Heaton and Wesley – and there’s no reason why United should expect to win.
Jack and John, the midfield duo, also laud ratings well above any United player – with both above 7.4.
Statistics Tell a Wholly Different Story
Manchester United are only three points ahead of Aston Villa currently and sit in 11th after yesterday’s games. But, they have been deceptively “good” this season.
They have the best defensive system in the league according to their xGA, which is the lowest in the league. In fact – their expected goals against is half that of Aston Villa’s, and going forward, they have racked up an xG tally of 23.07 compared to Aston Villa’s 19.02.
This makes for excellent reading for Manchester United fans, and their expected points suggest that they should be sitting in third and only one point behind Liverpool.
The worry here, for Aston Villa, is that it is their home form that has carried out most of their performances and wins. Three out of four wins this season have been earned for Manchester United at Old Trafford, and in their six homes games this season so far, they’ve mustered up a xG of over two in three of them.
Topsy, Turvy Man Uniiii-ted
Overall, Manchester United, both home and away, have been a little patchy this season. Poor performances against Bournemouth, Sheffield United, Newcastle and Arsenal are mixed in with poor results – despite good performances – against Crystal Palace, West Ham and Liverpool.
It’s difficult to grasp which United side will show up – which suggests that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a little hit-and-miss with his tactics. Dean Smith, on the other hand, generally sets Aston Villa up to compete and create chances. You have to feel that this will be an interesting game if the away side catch Manchester United on an off day.
Aston Villa should look to deal with Rashford, first and foremost. He’s the main threat, and if you can keep him quiet then you give yourself a chance. Guilbert needs to pick his moments to get forward as he can exploit Williams with his pace – but equally, he and El Ghazi will need to run their socks off to provide their usual goal threats whilst still tracking back.
On the other side, Jack Grealish and Matt Targett against Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James will be an interesting battle. You would think that if Grealish can get the better of the right-back, it’ll be a hard afternoon for Manchester United.
Centrally, you’d expect that this is a game that John McGinn, Wesley, Conor Hourihane and Marvelous Nakamba (or Douglas Luiz, for that matter), can get about and make life difficult for Manchester United’s lack-lustre midfield.