Aston Villa will try to re-establish the home dominance they relied upon through much of the season when they oppose a surging Manchester United side in Sunday’s late Premier League kickoff.
Fourth-place Villa (14-5-4, 46 points) had nine victories and one draw through their first 10 league home games, a strength Unai Emery’s side used to make a strong run at the league lead.
Aston Villa was 8-0-0 at home prior to a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United on Dec. 22.
And now they will be trying to keep sixth-place Manchester United at bay after taking back-to-back home losses by the same 3-1 score, in the league to Newcastle United on Jan. 30 and in an FA Cup fourth-round replay against Chelsea on Wednesday.
In between those results, Villa hammered Sheffield United 5-0 paced by Ollie Watkins’ team-leading 11th goal and Leon Bailey’s seventh, showing they are still capable of the kind of explosive attacking play that aided their earlier home wins.
“It’s a new challenge for us, it’s a new challenge for our supporters and it’s a new challenge in Villa Park to feel strong like we were,” Emery said on Friday of trying to recapture that home form. “When we’re facing matches like this — of course we have to be consistent in 38 matches — but it’s … a key match.”
Manchester United (12-9-2, 38 points) enter the weekend eight points back of fourth-place Villa and a precious UEFA Champions League position. But they have shown signs of a possible second-half surge of late, going unbeaten with four wins in their past five games in all competitions.
Perhaps most tellingly, a club that struggled for goals through much of the season suddenly scored 15 across those five matches. That included seven in their past two league fixtures, an enthralling 4-3 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers followed by a far more comfortable 3-0 home triumph over West Ham United last weekend.
Manchester United still don’t have an elite Premier League goal-scorer. However, Alejandro Garnacho has produced a pair of two-goal performances since Boxing Day, the latest coming against West Ham. The 19-year-old winger is showing signs he could become a consistent goal threat with more maturation and consistency.
With the Red Devils already eliminated from European competition this season, manager Erik ten Hag has chosen to stress the urgency of his team’s situation rather than alleviate some of the pressure that comes with the expectations at one of the world’s most decorated clubs.
“I said to the team from the start of January every game is now a final,” ten Hag said on Thursday. “That was also our approach to West Ham, this is a final, we have to take this challenge and see it as a final. That will be every day now from on.”
–Field Level Media