Match preview: United v Aston Villa
Manchester United usher in 2021 with a classic Premier League fixture, as we host Aston Villa at Old Trafford.
While 2020 was a year to forget for so many reasons, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men made progress on the pitch and will be looking to pile further pressure on leaders Liverpool with a win, that would take us level on points with the champions.
However, Dean Smith’s side are also in the top-four mix after an impressive opening three months, and are likely to provide a tough test.
Here’s everything you need to know about Friday’s match…
HOW CAN I FOLLOW THE GAME?
The match kicks off at 20:00 GMT and will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK.
United fans will also be able to follow all the action on ManUtd.com and in our Official App, where you can also track in-game data using our Match Centre.
MUTV will provide build-up, live radio commentary and post-match reaction as well as showing full reruns of the game the following day.
United are waiting on the fitness of Victor Lindelof, who missed the win over Wolves with a back problem. Alex Telles is fit, despite being withdrawn at half-time in midweek.
The visitors, meanwhile, will hope to welcome Ross Barkley back - the on-loan midfielder has had to sit out the last six weeks of action with a hamstring problem. Centre-back Tyrone Mings is available once again after serving a one-match suspension during the 1-1 draw with Chelsea.
Villa have enjoyed their best start to a Premier League season in almost two decades, having won eight, drawn two and lost four of their 14 matches to date. Smith’s side have been particularly impressive on the road, beating Leicester, Arsenal and Wolves, among others, but their finest performance of the season came in early October, when they utterly dismantled champions Liverpool at Villa Park, emerging 7-2 winners with Ollie Watkins registering a stunning first-half hat-trick.
The West Midlanders’ form dipped later that month, as they lost four of their following six league games, but they are unbeaten in their last five and only Olivier Giroud has managed to score against a defence which has become water-tight after leaking goals in their first season back in the big time.
United famously have an excellent record against Aston Villa in the Premier League, and we haven’t been defeated in any our last 15 head-to-heads with the West Midlands side. The Villans have tasted league victory just once at Old Trafford since 1989, with that win coming in December 2009, courtesy of a solitary Gabby Agbonlahor header.
Last season’s iteration of this fixture ended 2-2, with a Tom Heaton own goal and Lindelof’s effort overturning an early Jack Grealish wonder strike, prior to Mings’s equaliser. That stalemate ended a run of six consecutive Reds wins against Villa in M16, with United scoring three or more goals in five of those encounters, and if United take all three points on Friday, it’ll bring up a century of victories versus the Villans – we’ve never achieved that against a single opponent.
We lost 1-0 to Smith's men in a pre-season friendly at Villa Park before our campaign got under way, with Wakins scoring the only goal.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Captain Jack Grealish is a talismanic figure for Villa, pulling the strings in midfield and helping create a whole host of chances for attackers Anwar El-Ghazi, Bertrand Traore and Watkins. The England international leads the Premier League in terms of key passes (51) and shot-creating actions (98), and is also the division’s most-fouled player. Fellow midfielder John McGinn missed three months of last season through injury but played a key part in Villa’s survival battle and subsequent resurgence, while goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has proved a shrewd acquisition from Arsenal. The Argentinian stopper has kept more clean sheets (eight) than any other Premier League goalkeeper in 2020/21.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistants: Stuart Burt, Simon Bennett
Fourth official: Darren England
VAR: Paul Tierney
Assistant VAR: Lee Betts
FRIDAY 1 JANUARY
Everton v West Ham (17:30 GMT)
UNITED v Aston Villa (20:00 GMT)
SATURDAY 2 JANUARY
Tottenham v Leeds (12:30 GMT)
Crystal Palace v Sheffield United (15:00 GMT)
Brighton v Wolves (17:30 GMT)
West Brom v Arsenal (20:00 GMT)
SUNDAY 3 JANUARY
Burnley v Fulham (12:00 GMT)
Newcastle v Leicester (14:15 GMT)
Chelsea v Manchester City (16:30 GMT)
MONDAY 4 JANUARY
Southampton v Liverpool (20:00 GMT)