23 min: Now, do United try and sit on their lead? The signs are they might and that’s a dangerous policy considering Villa’s quality and their own quality of defending.
22 min: Close! Bailey gets into his favourite space, and almost bends in his shot. Boos as Onana takes his time over his goalkick.
20 min: Villa force their first corner. Varane heads away with power. The United contingent very loud at the moment. Moreno cuts inside and plays to the highly active Ramsey. This time, the shot flies over.
18 min: The boos that greeted that goal were very loud indeed. There could be no complaints, other than to say the Villa have no answer to Big H’s aerial prowess at the moment.
As predicted, Maguire beats Kamara to the ball, and from the knockdown Hojlund pokes home. That’s five in five for the Danish dynamite.
17 min: If we have the Celebration Police now, how about the Boo Police? Villa fans could up on a charge soon. They don’t like it when United win a free-kick and then a corner.
15 min: But…Varane has to stop a surging Ramsey when McGinn plays a through ball. Then McGinn uses his sizeable haunches to win a bouncing second ball. United eventually clear their lines.
13 min: Last-ditch tackle stops Hojlund who has escaped the offside trap. That’s fine defending. Another corner ends up with Maguire and United keep the pressure on. Garnacho swerves in and back out, his left foot shot just wide. United the better team so far.
11 min: Ramsey on defensive duties comes back to head behind. Up goes Maguire as the heavy artillery. Kamara and Maguire is a battle the United player is winning. This time, he heads wide. But one to watch.
9 min: Shaw’s ball is cut out and Villa spring clear, Ramsey showing Casemiro a clean pair of heels. The danger is cleared and away go United. Rashford goes on, sets up Garnacho but Carlos intercepts. United maybe needed to be more decisive in getting it to Hojlund.
7 min: Rashford is next to be offside. That’s one of Unai’s partypieces, the offside and high line.
6 min: Villa in the United half, the visitors looking to the counter it would seem. Then again, so will Unai Emery. He’s got the better of United before; Gdansk and the Europa League final with Villarreal for one.
Hojlund on the burst from a Rashford pass? Nope, offside.
4 min: Onana smashes a goal kick long and out of play. Maybe that’s why they play them short these days.
2 min: Dalot comes across to stop a galloping Jacob Ramsey, who is a popular selection as a local lad and talented player.
1 min: Away we go, with boos from the home fans for United having the ball. Big chant of Villa Villa. Archibald Leitch’s old stadium makes a lot of noise when it’s buzzing. How much Archie is left is another issue.
The teams are out, with Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train playing as they walk on. Now, is this the re-recorded version with Rob Trujillo of Metallica playing the bass and Mike Bordin of Faith No More on drums? Think so; the original song was recut down on the Blizzard of Oz reissue, fact fans. Randy Rhoads’ guitar lines were retained.
Erik ten Hag wants to catch up. He’s been speaking to Sky Sports: “We have to catch up. We know what position we are in. We got ourselves into it and now we have to step up. That should be the approach for every game because we have to catch up.”
Last time out for both teams.
Oh dear, David Moyes. Very well played, Arsenal.
The top three streak away, leaving Villa chasing, and United chasing yet more for a European place.
All eyes on that United central midfield pairing of master and apprentice.
“I am happy he is back,” Ten Hag said of Casemiro. “For Kobbie, he can learn a lot from him. Kobbie is very coachable and Casemiro has so much experience, Kobbie will learn a lot from it and that will accelerate his development. I am happy to have him and when they play together they can benefit from each other.”
Asked if the two have a strong bond, Ten Hag said: “Absolutely, Casemiro takes that responsibility, he takes it to him, he’s talking to him. I see it in the dressing room, I see it on the pitch, on the training ground, in games. He is looking at his own game but he is looking to help and support Kobbie.”
Just one Villa change, and that’s Youri Tielemans dropping out for Jacob Ramsey. For United, there’s no Lisandro Martinez after that knee injury last week and Raphael Varane comes back in.
Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Diego Carlos, Lenglet, Alex Moreno, Kamara, Douglas Luiz, Bailey, Ramsey, McGinn, Watkins. Subs: Tielemans, Digne, Torres, Diaby, Zaniolo, Olsen, Rogers, Kesler-Hayden, Iroegbunam.
Man Utd: Onana, Dalot, Maguire, Varane, Shaw, Casemiro, Mainoo, Garnacho, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford, Hojlund. Subs: Bayindir, Lindelof, Amrabat, Eriksen, Diallo, Antony, Evans, McTominay, Forson.
Referee: Robert Jones (Merseyside)
Manchester United are back, man. Or that’s how it’s felt the last few weeks, a semblance of calm descending, the wheels on the clown car actually turning. Of course, there’s been a few false dawns on the way, and the last of them was beating Villa 3-2 on Boxing Day but maybe with Alejandro Garnacho, Kobbie Mainoo and Rasmus Hojlund putting it together, Erik Ten Hag can create a decent legacy, whatever Big Sir Jim Ratcliffe has in mind for him at the end of the season. As for Villa, their amazing 2023 has not translated just yet into a good 2024. They’re still in touch with the top four though, and beating United would do damage to a rival for a top-four/five place. This could be a good one.
Kick-off at 4.30pm UK time. Join me.