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Starting XI: Aston Villa vs. Manchester United

The Reds cannot afford to slip up at Villa Park

Manchester United v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Thursday’s match:

(1) Manchester United travel to Villa Park for another game that, on paper, looks like a laugher. Since the restart, the Reds have mercilessly cut through some of the worst sides in the Premier League — and, on Thursday, they get another one. It’s been a miserable season for Aston Villa and United could heap on even more pressure with another lopsided win.

(2) Manchester United extended their unbeaten run to sixteen on Saturday with a 5-2 win over Bournemouth. The Reds continued their slick play against the Premier League’s also-rans, although there was a red flag or two to be found. Namely, the United defense allowed two goals to a very poor Bournemouth side — and lost Victor Lindelöf to injury, too.

(3) Eric Bailly replaced Lindelöf at halftime, but hardly helped his case for more playing time with a very uneven performance. Case in point: He conceded a penalty within minutes of getting on the pitch. No official word yet on the extent of Lindelöf’s back injury, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted he’s “not sure” if he’ll be back for the Aston Villa match.

(4) The Bournemouth win briefly lifted Manchester United into fourth, although Chelsea have since won twice to reclaim their place (and even jump up to third) and extend the lead to five points. Wolves, though, lost to Arsenal at the weekend, handing United a clear advantage for the last Champions League spot (assuming that Manchester City’s appeal fails).

(5) Solskjaer spoke about 18-year-old Teden Mengi, who has been training with the first team since the restart. With Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones out — and Lindelöf up in the air — Mengi could soon be in line for a place on the bench.

He’s an exciting talent and was desperate to come in. He keeps in touch with the coaches and he was always ready when we asked him, “Are you ready? Are you fit enough?” He worked hard over the lockdown and he’s done really well. He doesn’t seem out of place, so he’ll definitely be more in and around the first team next season.

(6) There’s not much joy around Aston Villa these days. The West Midlands club has not won a game since January and now sits squarely in the relegation zone. After winning promotion from the Championship last season, Villa spent big (well over £100 million) to avoid this very scenario. But, considering Manchester United’s current form and the fact that United haven’t lost a league match at Villa Park since 1995, any turnaround is unlikely to start this week.

(7) For months, Aston Villa star midfielder Jack Grealish has been linked to Manchester United. Villa won’t want to sell, but Grealish won’t fancy another season (at least) in the Championship and could force a move this summer. The 24-year-old has scored seven goals, chipped in with six assists, and ranks as the most fouled Premier League player in 2019/20.

(8) To Graeme Souness, though, that last “honor” is a bad thing:

I would not want to have been the most fouled player in the Premier League. That means I’m holding onto the ball too long. I’m taking extra touches when I don’t need to. It means you’re not seeing the picture quickly enough. There’s no doubt about it. He’s easy on the eye ... but I’m yet to be convinced by him.

(9) Aston Villa drew the short straw of a trip to Anfield right after Manchester City shellacked Liverpool 4-0. Unsurprisingly, Jurgen Klopp’s side got back in the win column with a 2-0 win over the visitors. Villa mustered just 28% possession, but mostly held their own against very tough opposition. Not an entirely discouraging performance.

(10) Afterwards, Aston Villa manager Dean Smith tried to look on the bright side:

To come to Anfield with the way they have played over the last two seasons and to have more shots than them is something we take a lot of positives from. But I don’t want to be a valiant loser. Games are running out and we need to put points on the board.

(11) Important stat: Despite Aston Villa’s dismal defensive record (second-worst in the Premier League with 62 goals allowed), this match might not be a walk in the park for the Manchester United frontline.