Aston Villa host Manchester United on Thursday night with both sides in need of three points for very different reasons.
Villa have endured a torrid return to league football following the three-month break – picking up just two points from a possible 15. Their poor form has seen their winless run stretch to nine Premier League games, and with just five games remaining they find themselves stuck in the bottom three.
United on the other hand are enjoying their best form of the season (and perhaps in years) and look well set to make a charge for a place in next season’s Champions League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men are 16 unbeaten in all competitions, with many pinpointing the arrival of midfield dynamo Bruno Fernandes as the catalyst for the club’s upturn in form.
In what could be a crucial game at both ends of the table, here’s 90min’s preview of the upcoming clash.
When is Kick Off? Thursday 9 June
What Time is Kick Off? 20:15 (BST)
Where is it Played? Villa Park
TV Channel/Live Stream? Sky Sports Premier League
Villa’s bid for Premier League survival has been hugely hampered by injuries this season. Big-money summer signing Wesley again misses out and isn’t expected to feature again this season after suffering knee ligament damage in the New Year’s Day win over Burnley.
Tom Heaton meanwhile is another victim of knee ligament damage who won’t play again this campaign. The game is also expected to come too soon to see the return of Matt Targett after he limped off in the 1-0 defeat to Wolves with a hamstring injury.
For the visitors, Victor Lindelöf was forced off at half-time in their thumping 5-2 win over Bournemouth at the weekend. However, the Swede is expected to be fit in time for the trip to Villa Park.
Elsewhere, Phil Jones and Alex Tuanzebe both remain sidelined and will not feature on Thursday.
Aston Villa: Reina; Konsa, Hause, Mings, Taylor; Luiz, McGinn, Hourihane; El Ghazi, Grealish, Samatta.
Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelöf, Maguire, Shaw; Matic, Pogba; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial.
Villa’s return since the break has not been good. Draws against Sheffield United and Newcastle are all they have to show for their five games back, though their performance last time out in the 2-0 defeat to Liverpool was a little more encouraging.
United’s form is as impressive as Solskjaer has experienced since his tenure at Old Trafford began. Big wins against Sheffield United, Brighton and Bournemouth have seen the Red Devils give themselves a real chance of qualification for the Champions League next season.
Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa (05/07)
Aston Villa 0-1 Wolves (27/06)
Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa (24/06)
Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea (21/06)
Aston Villa 0-0 Sheffield United (17/06)
Manchester United 5-2 Bournemouth (04/07)
Brighton 0-3 Manchester United (30/06)
Norwich 1-2 Manchester United (27/06)
Manchester United 3-0 Sheffield United (24/06)
Tottenham 1-1 Manchester United (19/06)
Time is running out for Dean Smith’s men. Their positive (if fruitless) display at Anfield will have instilled some much needed confidence, but they need to pick up points soon if they are to avoid the second tier.
United’s away record is unusually poor for a team on as much of a high as they are right now. Just five away wins all season, and if they’re to keep the heat on Chelsea in the race for the top four they’ll need to make it six away wins for the season at Villa.
Having said that, the Red Devils looked superb against Bournemouth and in Bruno Fernandes they boast arguably the best player in the league at the moment. Expect the Portugal international to run the show yet again.
Prediction: Aston Villa 0-2 Manchester united