View Across the Dugout: Aston Villa vs Manchester United

Going into one of the most important games of the season given Watford’s win over Norwich on Tuesday night, making survival prospects look all the slimmer, I spoke to James Savundra to hear an opposition fan’s view on the all-important fixture as United hunt for Champions League qualification.

Having been in your best form in many years, what’s the feeling amongst fans like at United? Is Solskjaer backed?

The feeling amongst Man Utd fans has completely changed and that’s due to one man – Bruno Fernandes. There had been some bright sparks from United up until his arrival but he joined in the week that we lost 2-0 at home to Burnley. There was a lot of anger about Paul Pogba and the seeming lack of clarity about his injuries and what was actually wrong with him! Fernandes has come in and not only galvanised the squad but has galvanised the entire fanbase. There’s a huge amount of excitement about this current side. There was always a huge amount of love for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for what he gave to this club as a player and for the initial run as interim manager. However, now he’s beginning to show he’s a seriously capable coach.

What’s changed for you since the restart? Has it been all Pogba, or tactical improvements etc?

Since the restart, Bruno Fernandes has again been the catalyst and the driving force behind this team. United fans have been crying out for years for a player who would be willing to take risks and risk losing the ball in the pursuit of producing something game-changing. In the past, you’d approach many games with dread especially in games where the opponents would sit in and look to hit United on the counter. Paul Pogba has come into the side and seems to have a real urge to prove his class. He’s an extraordinary talent who is capable of doing anything on a football pitch. He’s now playing alongside a player with incredible belief in his own ability too. I feel that Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial’s goals last weekend were an indication of the confidence that Fernandes has injected into this side. The team has been unchanged for the last three matches and it feels as if Solskjaer has found the core XI that will take him into the rest of this season and beyond.

What have you made of Villa since the restart, if you’ve caught any of our games?

Aston Villa have been impressive in staying in games longer and giving each team since the restart a real game. However, Villa don’t look like scoring enough goals to win a match and opponents must take confidence in knowing that they are always likely to concede. I think the injuries of Tom Heaton and Wesley have devastated the team. However, it was always going to be difficult with the amount of investment and number of players brought in during the summer. This was unfortunate because due to the short-term loans last season, it was something Villa simply had to do. It’s lazy punditry to criticise Villa for their spending because they simply had to. I fear for Villa as they don’t offer enough in attack or defence at present.

Though I wouldn’t like to tempt fate (or see him wear your jersey anytime soon!) what are your thoughts on Jack Grealish? How would he fit in at United?

Jack Grealish has been so impressive this season. I’ve been particularly impressed by his attitude despite the setbacks. He’s been targeted by opposition players but has bounced back each time. His body language has been admirable despite his internal horror at some of the defending he must see behind him. I have huge sympathy for him because he simply doesn’t have a striker who will convert even 25% of the chances he creates for them. I would love to see what Grealish would look like where he is surrounded by world-class players. Pogba’s revival and Fernandes’ arrival mean that Grealish is no longer a necessity. However, with United on course to play 50-60 games in a condensed 2020/21 season, he’d definitely offer something to the squad – albeit not a guaranteed starter.

Do United have any injuries for the game? What do you anticipate the lineup to be?

Victor Lindelof looks to be a doubt for the game. If he doesn’t play then it appears that Eric Bailly will step in. He’s a player who United fans have a mixed opinion on. He can look sensational at times but also prone to make an error. I’d expect Villa to try and target him if he starts. Aside from that, I’d expect United to remain unchanged. The only possible change I could envisage would be Scott McTominay or Fred coming in for Nemanja Matic. However, Solskjaer and United fans have been so impressed by Matic in this calendar year.

What is your prediction for the match?

I predict that it will be a closer game than some would suspect. However, that’s probably due to my own nervousness as a United fan. I may have said something different as a neutral. United are not quite up to the point where the fans expect the team to win every game. That will still take time. United’s lapses at the back against Bournemouth will give Villa confidence. However, it’s hard to see United not getting enough chances. With Villa’s own goalkeeper concerns, it’s hard to see United not converting at least one of those. It’s whether or not Villa can create enough chances to get something from the game. People have questioned United’s defence in recent times but their record over the past 16 games has been close to exceptional.

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