Manchester United are the form team in the Premier League. After a topsy-turvy opening, United have hit their straps under first-year manager Louis van Gaal and head into today’s game at Aston Villa on the back of seven consecutive league victories. Five points clear of fifth-placed Southampton and eight behind league-leaders Chelsea, United’s focus is finally turning towards the title race after 18 months away from the top of the table.
Goals haven’t been a problem for the most expensively assembled squad in Premier League history, with only Chelsea (36) and Manchester City (33) scoring more than United’s 29. And while defensive injuries and a lack of depth on the back line have left Van Gaal’s side brutally exposed at times, the form of goalkeeper David de Gea has helped the Red Devils concede just 17 goals in 16 games – good for fourth-best in the division.
De Gea was outstanding again in last weekend’s 3-0 win over Liverpool, and the defenders at the club are clearly happy to have such a talented stopper behind them.
“He is terrific to work with,” centre-back Phil Jones explained. “Off the field he is a great lad; he is very humble and quiet. On the pitch, we are lucky to have him. After coming to the club, he had a difficult spell in his first year, but even going through that we saw the ability he had in training and some of the saves he makes are unbelievable.
“He pulls out some unbelievable saves and he is fantastic in terms of positioning. You know he is there and nine times out of 10 he is going to make the save for you. He is in the top three in the world for me.”
Today (Saturday) will see United travel to Birmingham to face Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa. A 1-0 derby defeat to West Bromwich Albion last weekend ended a run of five games unbeaten for the Villans – who are the league’s lowest goal-scorers with just 10 in 16 matches.
The spectre of former assistant coach Roy Keane continues to influence proceedings at the club weeks after his departure, and Lambert has been forced to deny media speculation that Keane aggressively confronted midfielder Tom Cleverley at his own home this week.
“I spoke to Tom really briefly and he assures me that what is being portrayed is certainly not what happened,” Lambert said. “I’ve probably spoken about Roy more since he’s left than when he was here. I think you should give the guy a break.
“I spoke to Roy. We’re good pals, not just in this regard but we’re good pals in general and that will always be the same. Roy’s obviously got his Ireland role to contend with and work on, trying to qualify for Euro 2016. There’s no problem on that side. He’s my pal. I also spoke to Tom and the matter is finished.”
Aston Villa will be without the injured Ashley Westwood, Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos and Nathan Baker, while United’s injury problems are finally starting to ease. Luke Shaw, Daley Blind and Chris Smalling remain a week from returning, but Angel di Maria and Marcos Rojo may be in line to start after hamstring and thigh problems, respectively.
A return for Di Maria would likely drop James Wilson from the lineup that started against Liverpool, with Wayne Rooney moving into a more forward role. Michael Carrick played at the heart of a central defensive trio last weekend, but Rojo’s return could give Van Gaal license to move Carrick back into a midfield that offered very little defensive cover.
United did the double over Villa last season, making it seven straight league wins over the Midlands club with an aggregate score of 21-4.
Source: ScoreMobile FC