FA Cup Third Round
Venue: Old Trafford
KO time: 19:55
Where to watch: BBC 1, BBC iPlayer
Villa fans would almost be forgiven for forgetting we actually have a game of football tonight amid what has been a very exciting January transfer window so far. Aston Villa will return to Old Trafford tonight as a very different outfit to the one that defeated Manchester United 1-0 via a Kortney Hause header back in September. That victory would sadly turn out to be the final win of Dean Smith's tenure before eventually being replaced by Steven Gerrard following that run of bad results. Despite the fact that Smith was already able to find a way of getting 3 points at United, having Gerrard at the helm tonight for this FA Cup clash might actually be more beneficial given his desire to win a trophy which one would assume is only matched by his desire to get one over on his old rivals.
Aston Villa Team News
Gerrard has not shied away from telling the world how seriously he plans on taking the FA Cup and the line up he puts out this evening will likely reflect that. During the press conference the gaffer had these words to say..
“You have to prepare your team in the best possible way. Any time you go to Old Trafford with the level of player they’ve got, you know you’re going to be in for a really tough game."
“We’ll go there with the strongest possible team we’ve got available to try and get the best result we can.”
So with that in mind, it's safe to suggest we may see Villa's strongest eleven take to the pitch this evening. The keeper and back four will likely be the familiar combination of Martinez, Targett, Cash, Konsa and a returning Tyrone Mings from suspension. There's an outside chance that Kortney Hause may get another start after playing last week against Brentford and netting the winner in the last encounter between these teams but only time will tell. The midfield three is of course still missing an injured Marvelous Nakamba so Luiz, McGinn and Ramsey will be favourites to start unless Gerrard fancies giving Morgan Sanson a rare start.
The forward three is slightly tougher to predict. New signing Philippe Coutinho will of course not be available yet whilst Villa are also missing Trézéguet and Bertrand Traore to the African Cup of Nations. Ollie Watkins thankfully returns to the squad and is almost guaranteed to start with Emi Buendia just behind him. The last attacking spot could well go to Danny Ings or even the unfavoured Anwar El Ghazi but don't rule out a surprise start for Carney Chukwuemeka who has been pushing to start for a while now. Ashley Young is also pushing for a return following injury so the former winger turned full back may also be an option for the manager in either attack or defence.
Returning loan player Kaine Kesler-Hayden will likely not be available given he already played in the FA Cup against Manchester City only a few days prior for Swindon Town. Regardless of availability, there's probably not much room for Villa's young fringe players anyway tonight given the managers promise to play a full strength side.
Manchester United Team News
Aston Villa aren't alone in returning to this fixture with a new man in charge. In what was a decision waiting to happen for the longest time, Man Utd finally parted ways with Ole Gunnar Solskjær after an awful run of results. The new interim manager Ralph Rangnick hasn't had the greatest start to life at Old Trafford and with reports of unrest in the United camp it's tough to predict how the manager will approach this tie. However much like Steve Gerrard, Rangnick has hinted at playing his strongest side. He had the following to say..
"We will try to play with the best possible team, with a strong team. There might be a few changes but I haven't taken the final decisions yet myself. We will definitely try to play this game as if it was a normal Premier League or Champions League game."
Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire both missed United's previous game which led to the surprising return of Phil Jones. Jones arguably did enough in that defeat to Wolves to hold down a spot but with Lindelof back and Maguire a 50/50, there's a good chance he drops out and we see Lindelof and Varane as their centre half partnership. Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay look highly likely to start given that both will be suspended for the Premier League meeting between the two clubs five days later. Paul Pogba remains absent with injury but aside from that, everyone else is available to start for United so it just comes down to how much the manager wishes to rotate.
The attacking threats that United have at their disposal is no secret. With forward options which include Christiano Ronaldo, Edison Cavani, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho among others, Villa will have to be at their absolute best regardless of which team Rangnick decides to put forward.
Of course it's always worth noting that both teams will be participating in daily COVID testing so we may see last minute rotations to either side depending on any positive results.
Both Teams Looking To Bounce Back
Both Aston Villa and Manchester United go into this FA Cup tie off the back of a Premier League defeat. Villa looked uninspiring and flat away to Brentford in a disappointing 2-1 loss while United's disjointed side fell to a late Joao Moutinho winner in their 1-0 loss to Wolves at home. Both teams will of course be looking to bounce back regardless of the fixture being an FA Cup game. Neither side will be happy with where they sit in the Premier League table with Villa aiming to top last season's 11th place finish and maybe even challenge for the European places, and United having title ambitions before a ball was kicked. Both those targets seem a long way off at this point of the season (well, impossible in United's case) so a run in the Cup will be something both clubs will be looking towards. With that in mind I'd expect this game to be played at a very similar pace and physicality of a Premier League game with both teams properly going for it.
The Steve Gerrard factor will undoubtedly play a part in both Gerrard himself wanting to get one over on United as well as United wanting to hand Gerrard a big loss and dump him and his Villa side out the tournament.
Looking past this game we already know a favourable home fixture against Middlesbrough awaits the winner of this game so a decent Cup run is surely a possibility for whoever comes away with the victory tonight. Both teams will meet again only five days later in the Premier League at Villa Park this Saturday at 17:30 but thankfully that will be the last time we come up against the red devils as tonight's fixture does not have an option of a replay. In the event of a draw the teams will go to extra time and penalties if needed.
Make sure to keep an eye out right here at AVFC Faithful for match reports and player ratings following the game.