As Manchester United host fellow Premier League side Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Monday evening, they will be hoping to advance to the fourth round of the FA Cup. This seems like a game where this unsettled United team can make a statement and go on to have a good run of form after a few nerve-racking performances.
The Red Devils have won the FA Cup 12 times, the most recent victory being in 2016, while Villa have won the trophy seven times, the most recent being in 1957.
A Form Guide
After going five games undefeated, Ralf Rangnick suffered his first setback on Monday as a United manager, as Wolves beat the Red Devils 1-0 at Old Trafford which in turn led to the hosts dropping down to seventh place in the Premier League table.
Since then, there have been rumours of unhappiness in the dressing room, and it will be interesting to see how the 20-time English winners respond in the FA Cup on Monday evening.
United are gearing up for a double-header versus Villa, as the two sides will clash in the Premier League on January 15. The Red Devils also have a hectic run of fixtures as they will face Brentford on January 19 and West Ham on January 22 after coming up against Villa for the second time this week on Saturday.
Aston Villa have also seen a dip in their form after being handed back-to-back Premier League defeats against Chelsea and Brentford. These losses have seen them drop down to 13th place in the table with 22 points.
As previously stated, the visitors have won the FA Cup seven times, making them the joint-fourth most successful team in the tournament’s history, opposite Liverpool.
Villa have already defeated Man United at Old Trafford this campaign, prevailing 1-0 winners in the Premier League back in September, but the Red Devils have won 14 of their last 19 matchups in all competitions.
Paul Pogba is still unavailable due to injury, while Anthony Martial will not be considered for inclusion due to the continuous confusion regarding his future; Eric Bailly is also out after representing Ivory Coast for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Victor Lindelof is back after recuperating from COVID-19 and therefore should play, but club captain Harry Maguire may still be out with injury, with Rangnick detailing that “there is still a question mark” surrounding his match fitness.
This could mean that Phil Jones, who sparkled against Wolves in the league last time out, might be on course for another start at the back. Jones was not spotted with the team arriving at the hotel, however could still join the team before the game later this afternoon.
Rangnick has promised the United fans a strong United lineup. Dean Henderson could be expected to start in goal, while Diogo Dalot, Fred, Marcus Rashford, and Bruno Fernandes can be expected to earn back their spots in the starting XI.
Scott McTominay and Luke Shaw are both suspended for the Premier League match between the two sides next weekend, therefore they should be featured in the starting XI this time out.
Steven Gerrard has confirmed that both Ollie Watkins and Tyrone Mings will be eligible to play for Villa, while Kortney Hause should be able to manage an injury to make the team.
Injury has ruled out Marvelous Nakamba and Leon Bailey, while Ashley Young is a serious doubt to face his previous side. Phillipe Coutinho is also not expected to play for his new club as the game comes too quickly after his loan signing from Barcelona last week.
Trezeguet and Bertrand Traore are both unavailable due to their participation in the Africa Cup of Nations, but Gerrard still has ample alternatives in the attack.
Ones to Watch
While the Red Devils have a plethora of talent and firepower present in their squad, there are particularly two players from this United team you should definitely look out for. The first is Bruno Fernandes, without the influence of whom, the Red Devils lack creativity upfront.
The Portuguese midfielder, since his arrival, has been the heart of the team, be it goals-wise or assists-wise. Without him, the team’s attack and midfield look confused while also lacking the drive to create more chances.
The other United player to watch out for will be Phil Jones. He surprised everyone with his solidness and stability in United’s 0-1 loss against Wolves last weekend. The Englishman played his first game in almost 2 years and his performance looked nothing short than that of a top-quality centre-back.
Other than that, Cristiano Ronaldo is always someone to watch out for due to his world-renowned goalscoring record.
For Villa, Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins need to be singled out for United to watch out for. The two Englishmen are a constant threat and are also the main sources of Villa’s goals this season. While both of them have had their fair share of hiccups this season, they can always pose a threat to any team’s defence on their day.
Predicted Line-up (4-2-2-2)
David de Gea;
Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw;
Fred, Scott McTominay;
Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford;
Bruno Fernandes, Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Only Way is Up
With all the rumours surrounding the dressing room, United’s current form, and their position in the league table, the team has plenty to fight for as we enter the new year. The team, on Monday, have a chance to prove not only to the fans, but also to the manager that they can always put up a good fight, and are still able to play at the top of their game.
With all of the pressure from the media and also the fans, the players need to show that they are still one unit. The team needs to find their feet and also, not make simple errors to make the job easier for them and Ralf Rangnick.
United may be out of the title race but a top-four finish is still up for grabs. The team will have to find some form out of somewhere during this hectic run of games to be ready for the Champions League knockout fixture against the giant that is Atlético de Madrid at the end of this month.
It will be interesting nonetheless to see how United play tonight and it could be a glimpse of what the future holds for not only the players but the fans too.