Plenty of time has passed since our last win at Old Trafford, almost 10 years exactly when Gabby Agbonlahor scored to provide Villa with a valuable three points on the road – not only was this our last win at Old Trafford, it was our only win against Manchester United in ALL competitions since 1999. A win which came in the third round of the League Cup, with goals from Julian Joachim, Ian Taylor and Steve Stone helping Villa advance to the next round of the competition.
They say time is supposed to heal a broken heart, but almost 10 years later I’m still not over the crushing feeling I felt as a 10 year old at Wembley watching Phil Dowd refuse to send of Nemanja Vidic as he clearly fouled Agbonlahor – some things I simply refuse to get over, call me petulant but this one still cuts deep.
With that all being said, and taking into consideration Villa only seem to win against United once every ten years (Villa 3-0 United – October 13th, 1999 + United 0-1 Villa December 12th 2009), I’m absolutely convinced that Villa can get a win on the road, but you’ll find out why that is near the end of this article. First, I asked Paul Hirst (@hirstclass) of the Times Sport a few questions about Sunday’s big game.
Q. OGS seemed like a sentimental appointment at the time and quite an easy one to make for the club. Would you say that, given his ties to the club, he deserves more time?
Emotion definitely played a part in giving Solskjaer the job. He has a strong connection with the fans and he was the polar opposite of Mourinho – he was willing to take risks on the pitch and engaged with the fans and media off it. But in many ways, Ed Woodward just had to give him the job. United were playing some of the best football in the country during that three-month caretaker spell so he deserved a crack at it long-term. Things haven’t obviously gone to plan this season, but I think he deserves more time. Everyone is determined for immediate success these days and Solskjaer has realistically only had one transfer window to bring in the players he wanted and there is still a lot of deadwood in that squad from the previous three managers. He needs to be given a chance to clear that deadwood out and bring in more signings of his own to continue the project he’s undertaken.
Q. It was a very youthful side which played away against Astana. Do you see this as Ole sending a message to his senior players, or was he just resting them ahead of the weekend?
He was just resting them. It was an opportune moment to reintroduce Lingard and Shaw into the team, but neither really have a chance of making the team on Sunday. Shaw had missed the previous 16 games with a hamstring problem and Lingard is firmly behind Pereira in the pecking order now because he’s been out of form for so long. It was telling that Solskjaer left Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna at home to work with the first team players so I don’t think any of the players involved on Thursday will start.
Q. It’s clear that a club the size of Manchester United aren’t achieving what they would expect at this current moment, so what would turn this season into a successful one?
Champions League qualification (however they can get it). A domestic trophy would be nice for the fans but it would be damaging for the club’s prestige if they didn’t qualify for the Champions League for a second year in a row. United qualified for the last 32 of the Europa League with two games to spare, but their campaign in the competition could not have been more underwhelming, particularly on the road. The 0-0 draw against AZ Alkmaar was one of the wretched performances from United that I’ve seen since I started covering them six years ago. Then there was a narrow win in Belgrade and a defeat in Kazkahstan (albeit with a young team). This Europa League campaign has had no glamour about it whatsoever. The fans want big five star clubs like Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona visiting Old Trafford every year, not FC Astana.
Q. Who would you highlight as United’s biggest threat we should look out for?
Daniel James has been one of the signings of the season for me. A lot of people doubted whether he would be able to make the step up from the second tier, but Solskjaer has thrown him in at the deep end and he’s excelled. Only the best players can marry control of the ball with rapid pace and he can do just that. His crossing his good and he has an eye for goal too. It says a lot about his professionalism and willingness to learn that he has excelled on the right wing this season even though he barely played there before he joined United. For Swansea City and Wales, he either played on the left or down the middle.
Q. I’ll flip the question for you – who are you looking at in Villa’s team that can cause United problems?
It will be the first time I’ve seen Villa this season so I’m not particularly au fait with their squad, but I’ve always been a fan of Jack Grealish. I like the way he takes players on without giving it a second thought. The ball just seems to stick to his foot when he dribbles and he’s not afraid of doing the dirty work too. Tom Heaton had an absolute stormer for Burnley at Old Trafford three years ago so I expect him to cause United problems of a different variety too.
Q. At B6 we’ve all seen how good Axel Tuanzebe can be. Do you feel like he has much of a future at United?
I think he’s got a massive future ahead of him at United. Solskjaer would never say a bad word about his players in public, but he seems to reserve his best praise for Tuanzebe. It was telling that Tuanzebe captained United against Rochdale in the Carabao Cup when Paul Pogba was also in the team. We all thought it was because Tuanzebe was raised in Rochdale, but Solskjaer said that he had given him the armband on merit and it was nothing to do with the fact that he was playing against his hometown club. He’s aggressive, intelligent and is a true leader. He will probably be on the bench on Sunday because Solskjaer thinks the Maguire-Lindelof partnership works well, but Tuanzebe will be a regular one day. I wouldn’t be surprised if he end up becoming permanent captain of United some time in the future. United fans don’t think of John Terry fondly but they have a lot to thank him for when it comes to Tuanzebe. Speak to the academy staff and they will tell you that he learned an awful lot from Terry during his loan spell at Villa.
Q. Aston Villa don’t have a very good track record in recent years against United, how do you think they game will play out? Can we get a score prediction?
After a week of hard work on the training ground, I think United’s first teamers will be well drilled and up for the game. United will probably concede a goal so I will go for a 2-1 home win.
Q. It’s hard to guess at the best of times who Ole will pick, so how do you think United will line up?
(4-2-3-1): D De Gea – A Wan-Bissaka, H Maguire, V Lindelof, B Williams – Fred, S McTominay – D James, A Pereira, M Rashford – A Martial
I most definitely agree with Paul, United are capable of conceding a goal – as demonstrated at Brammal Lane last Sunday, with Grealish back, players like Hourihane firing on all cylinders and young talents such as Ezri Konsa proving to be very solid players… I’m convinced we can get at least a draw. My head says 2-2, but my heart is saying a 2-1 win for the Villa, with Goals from Wesley and Grealish.
If you’d like a more in-depth preview from a Villa perspective, check out our latest edition of The Villa Filler Podcast where Dan Wiseman and myself talk all things Aston Villa. We’re also about to hit 1600 subscribers, we would appreciate it if you subscribed and watched on YouTube – Check it out below!