Manchester United travel to Villa Park this afternoon (Sunday) to face Aston Villa, in what looks like a crunch fixture in the race for the top four places in the Premier League.
Erik ten Hag’s men have started 2024 in good form, unbeaten in their five fixtures across all competitions.
A win in the Midlands would cut the gap between the two sides to five points and leave United fancying their chances of chasing down Unai Emery’s side.
Villa currently occupy the final Champions League qualification spot with United languishing in sixth after a poor first half of the campaign.
United took advantage of Villa’s high line to win the reverse fixture by three goals to two after finding themselves two behind at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.
Emery’s side are expected to deploy the same tactics on home soil and United’s lightning quick front line will hold the key to the three points.
United will look to go from back-to-front quickly to release Marcus Rashford, Rasmus Hojlund and Alejandro Garancho who are finding some form in recent weeks.
The quality in United’s midfield should have the ability to play the right passes, at the right times, to set the attacking trio free.
With Villa looking to squeeze the play into the United half, Bruno Fernandes in particular will be tasked with supplying the attackers with one-touch balls in behind.
Casemiro’s physicality in the middle of the park will help combat Villa’s strength in that area, with the dangerous John McGinn and outstanding Douglas Luiz hoping to pull the strings for the home side.
Ollie Watkins is in double figures for Premier League goals this season and will provide a huge threat to Ten Hag’s defence.
Harry Maguire is enjoying a decent campaign of his own and will be up for the task of keeping Villa’s top scorer quiet, with Raphael Varane sweeping up the scraps.
Villa have been largely excellent this season but do have an extensive injury list and suffered back-to-back home defeats after a record breaking run under Emery.
United’s attacking threat will certainly cause the experienced Spanish coach further headaches this afternoon and if the forwards catch fire, Ten Hag should be looking at a very valuable three points.
Given United’s low key return to form and Villa’s troubles, today’s game looks like the perfect opportunity for Ten Hag’s troops to lay a marker down for the second half of the season.