Thursday, 13 August 2015

UNITED, VILLA, FIRST UP FOR EPL's FIRST FNF LIVE!


It wasn't supposed to happen until next season but the English Defence League protest scheduled for Saturday in Walsall, coupled with United's involvement in the Champions League qualifying round next Tuesday, have ensured that English Football's first Friday Night Live will take place at Villa Park this week.

The Match:
Despite an spirit-sapping 1-1 draw at Friday's venue last season, Villa Park is one of United's happiest hunting grounds in the Premier League era. Indeed, the Old Trafford club last got beaten at Villa Park on 13th October 1999 in the then Worthington Cup (remember that?). A look at the overall record against Manchester United and Aston Villa in all competitions makes for sore reading for the Villa faithful. Some might therefore say that United couldn't have picked a better second league fixture to build on their solid start to the season.

Having looked largely unconvincing for the opener against Tottenham Hotspur, the jury remains firmly out on how fluid and cohesive United will be in far less scorching temperatures on Friday evening. It took United more than an hour to register their first shot on target of the season. A repeat of a similar statistic for Game 2 would create an unwanted pattern. All the passing from defence to midfield to defence again will count for nothing if the penetration stats are poor. Certainly, the speed of play has to improve to offer the attackers room to manouvre up top.

The Opposition:
Aston Villa started their 28th consecutive season in the top flight of English football with a 1-0 away victory over newly promoted AFC Bournemouth thanks to a goal from Rudy Gestede on his debut. Tim Sherwood also handed debuts to Michah Richards, Jordan Ayew, with the former starting at centre half.

Having made the most of an opener against a side still feeling its way around the premier league, the hosts will have very little pressure ahead of this one. Tim Sherwood might just benefit from having to tell his players to approach the fixture with a Cup final attitude. Indeed, if Villa can defend as resolute as they did in the reverse fixture last year, United could be faced with numerous questions and few answers if ball possession shall be prized ahead of penetration.

The Sub-Plots:
Having watched a couple of their rivals drop early points last weekend, United, are already in a position to inch further away this weekend given that the the top two sides last year are in direct opposition this Sunday. I imagine, for instance, the eye-brows will start to rise, albeit slowly, if come Sunday evening, United sit 5 points above Chelsea after just a couple of games. Certainly, the opportunity is there for Louis van Gaal to build a small grass thatched hut of pressure early on form the start.

Team-news on the night should also make for interesting observation. Whilst the expectation shall still be that Marcos Rojo is not yet fit to start, it remains to be seen whether the midfield duo of Carrick and Schneiderlin shall get the nod once again ahead of Bastian Schweinsteiger. With Villa likely to be dangerous primarily on the counter-attack from and set-pieces, you'd imagine that United may not necessarily need a second holding midfielder for this one. Chances are United will need more of creativity than muscle on Friday.

Often times last season, van Gaal failed to read into the script that not all premier league games should be approached with the same tactical acumen. As such, United failed to make much hay away from home against, with all due respect, lower-table opposition. Against certain sides, attacks do not have to be built with the same meticulous method as you would do in a game against top opposition. Sometimes, the more you over think it, the easier it becomes for the opposition. Sometimes instinct triumphs over method, especially when the opposition can only stifle your method. This time I'd like to see United vary their play often enough to make it as less predictable as possible.

The Bottom Line:
United primarily failed to mount a challenge last season because of an incredibly poor record away from home. Friday is a first opportunity to address the points tally picked up at some of the grounds we ought to, as a matter of necessity, pick up points.

Indeed, whilst the dark clouds of October remain more than a month away, United owe it to themselves to make a lot of hay while the sun still shines! They'll be no sunshine on Friday when both teams take to the pitch, but Villa Park has a pseudo status of being United's second-home given the run of results down the years there.

With a Champions League qualifier to follow soon after that, United will be desperate not to shatter their confidence ahead of a crucial week.

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