Manchester United’s rekindled pursuit of a second successive top-four finish in the Premier League faces a stern test as they visit fellow Champions League contenders Aston Villa on Sunday.
The showdown in Birmingham could be a season-defining fixture for Erik ten Hag’s side, especially as it arrives amidst the team’s mini-revival following a woeful first half of the season.
United started the new calendar year in the top flight with a goal-glutted 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur before overcoming Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United via an aggregate score of 7-3.
Last weekend’s 3-0 demolition of the Hammers lifted the Red Devils to within eight points of fourth-placed Villa, reigniting the club’s bid to qualify for the Champions League for the second season running.
Standing in the way of Man United’s resurgence is Unai Emery’s side, whose form curve has taken a downward trajectory since the turn of 2024, falling short of many EPL match previews and tips.
As if losing 3-1 to a depleted Newcastle United side in their last home league outing wasn’t demoralising enough, the Lions slumped to a 3-1 humbling at the hands of Chelsea in midweek FA Cup action.
Villa can take confidence from a 5-0 thumping of basement boys Sheffield United in between those two upsets.
Villa’s once promising-looking quest to secure their first Premier League top-four finish in the Premier League since 1995/96 has descended into disarray following a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.
Emery’s men let a 2-0 half-time lead slip through their fingers in the reverse fixture and have since blown hot and cold across four subsequent league matches (W2, D1, L1).
Only two points clear of Tottenham Hotspur at the start of this round of games, Villa return to home soil where they have lost their last two competitive games – as many defeats as in their previous 22 at Villa Park.
Despite trouncing Man Utd 3-1 on Emery’s touchline debut in November 2022, that success remains their only H2H triumph at Villa since 1999 (D6, L17).
United’s long-standing dominance in this match-up bolsters their chances of making it four consecutive away wins in all competitions for the first time since October 2020.
Although their travel sickness under Ten Hag is well-documented, the Red Devils have emerged victorious from their last three away contests, notably netting 2+ goals on each occasion.
But before jumping the gun, the Old Trafford faithful must consider two of those three victories came against lower-tier opponents Newport County and Wigan Athletic.
However, there’s no doubt Man United have rediscovered their scoring boots, with 13 of their 31 top-flight goals this season arriving in their last five league assignments (W3, D1, L1).
Team News & Potential Line-ups
In addition to long-term absentees Emiliano Buendia and Tyrone Mings, Villa will be without Ezri Konsa and Jhon Duran.
Emery’s still sweating over Lucas Digne’s match fitness but has Alex Moreno to fill the Frenchman’s boots should he fail to recover in time.
Tyrell Malacia, Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are still on the sidelines for United.
However, Lisandro Martinez’s renewed knee injury is a troublemaking factor, leaving Ten Hag with a significant choice.
Raphael Varane, who took the Argentine’s place against West Ham, is the leading candidate to partner Harry Maguire at the back.
Mason Mount is nearing full recovery, but this clash will come too soon for him.
Aston Villa potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Emiliano Martinez; Matty Cash, Pau Torres, Clement Lenglet, Alex Moreno; Douglas Luiz, Boubacar Kamara; Moussa Diaby, Youri Tielemans, John McGinn; Ollie Watkins.
Manchester United potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Andre Onana; Diogo Dalot, Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw; Kobbie Mainoo, Casemiro; Alejandro Garnacho, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Rasmus Hojlund.
- Confirmed Man Utd line-up vs Nottingham Forest, Antony starts
- Former Manchester United ace John O’Shea assumes interim charge of Ireland
- Manchester United are keen on signing Ajax goalkeeper Diant Ramaj
- Man Utd are possible destination for Atalanta star Giorgio Scalvini
- Manchester United youngster Ethan Williams set to sign new contract
- Manchester United: Sao Paulo make stance clear on Casemiro transfer
- Mason Greenwood harbours no great desire to play for Manchester United again
- Man Utd join Arsenal in race to sign Besiktas wonderkid Semih Kilicsoy
- Predicted Man Utd line-up vs Nottingham Forest, Kambwala starts
- ‘He’s unstoppable’: Erik ten Hag defends Man Utd winger Antony