Juan Mata scores for Manchester United against Aston Villa last season
Following the international break, in form Manchester United welcome Aston Villa to Old Trafford in what will be the 184th clash between the two sides. Villa are struggling at the wrong end of the table, but have recently picked up under new manager Tim Sherwood with an important win over fellow relegation battlers, Sunderland. Villa fans can also look forward to an FA Cup semi-final clash against Liverpool or Blackburn Rovers but the main focus will be on Premier League survival and three point at Old Trafford.
United are in good form, beating Tottenham and a superb 2-1 win against Liverpool over the past few weeks, which has opened a gap between United in fourth spot. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini are in fine form and both are expected to start against Villa,
We are joined today by Matthew Turvey who blogs over at Aston Villa Life. We caught up on the relegation battle, how Tom Cleverley is doing at Villa Park and will the glory days ever return to Villa Park. You can follow Matt and the lads on Twitter @astonvillalife.
1) How would you sum up your season? Should you be where you are?
As ever, disappointing. Villa aren’t as big as they may have been in the 90s, but seeing the team toward the bottom of the league isn’t great. However, that said, there have been a number of issues that have led us to where we are – a lack of investment, no strategy at board level and the fall out post Martin O’Neill – so I’m not surprised we’re in the bottom half. Realistically we’re a bit better than we currently appear to be, but not much at present.
2) What are your feelings towards Paul Lambert and is Tim Sherwood the right man to lead you forward?
I really can’t fault Lambert for what he did for the club. He was tasked to do a job – cut the wage bill and keep the club up – so, to that end, he’s done what he was asked for. That said, this season he couldn’t motivate the players and the goals dried up, and after the Hull game it was obvious he had to go.
On Sherwood, I think he’s only in the job because Villa have been a mess for years. He certainly appears to have reinvigorated the players – which is a good thing – but I’m not convinced he can work miracles. On one hand, he’s unproven so he could prove the doubters wrong. On the other, well, he’s unproven so he may be out of his depth. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt though as Villa fans can’t afford to do anything but get behind the team now.
3) How has Tom Cleverley played this season for you?
Under Lambert, he seemed very restrained and didn’t really give a great account of himself. Under Sherwood, he appears to be playing better because of Tim’s attacking mentality. At Wigan he played well so I’m hoping Sherwood can cultivate that in him. Whether he’s worth the reported £7-8m that was touted to take him permanently, it is too early to know, and I imagine he may prefer to work under Roberto Martinez at Everton if he had the choice.
4) What did you make of the reaction following the FA Cup victory over WBA?
It struck me as a bit of a rush of blood to the head. Derby matches have the potential to cultivate that kind of atmosphere so, if I’m honest, I’m not overly surprised. I don’t think fans should have been on the pitch during the game, but the reaction on the post-match invasion was massively overblown and slightly hypocritical of the BBC who appeared almost supportive of Reading’s invasion. Maybe it was because Albion fans were ripping chairs up but, from the Villa side at least, I didn’t see any dark undertone to it.
5) Who will go down this season?
At the moment it feels very much like it’ll be at least two of the three that came up at the start of the season. Leicester are gone I think, and QPR aren’t far behind with the Harry Redknapp myth well and truly busted. Burnley might get sucked into it, but then there are a number of teams at risk – Sunderland fans have got to be worried, even though Gus Poyet has gone. I don’t think Villa will go down, but I don’t envisage them finishing more than a few places above the drop zone.
6) What have you made of United this season and will the club finish in the top four?
United have felt very much like a team without an identity and less than stellar in terms of attacking. Anyone taking the reins in the aftermath of Alex Ferguson going will have his work cut out. In all honesty, I don’t think David Moyes was the right candidate, but he’s gone now and Louis van Gaal is in charge.
I think that van Gaal will likely sort it out, but I imagine the United fans might not like his teams in the interim. I think that they can probably finish in the top four which, despite past successes, is a good result for them as it means the Champions League and a platform to build on.
7) Can you see Falcao and Di Maria next season?
Falcao has been largely underwhelming this season, and Di Maria hasn’t exactly been at the levels I saw out of him at Real Madrid. If I’m to ask why they haven’t flourished, I’d largely say it was down to van Gaal and his tactics – I don’t think they have really brought the best out of the pair of them which has to be disappointing. Will they be at United come next season? I guess that comes down to offers – if there’s big money on the table for di Maria, van Gaal may cash in. Falcao, on the other hand, I doubt will be there as there’s nothing I’ve seen of him in United colours to suggest he is worth his reported wages.
8) Who do you fear most in United’s team?
Historically, I’d always have said Chicharito but obviously he’s no longer there. Juan Mata is a talented player and knows how to make the most of the ball, and it has been good to see him playing well as he’s a top quality player. So, for me, Mata is probably the person I fear most, simply because he can conjure things out of nothing.
9) Will Villa ever return to the glory days of the early 80s? Ever? If so, what has to change in football.
It’ll be a massively uphill struggle to get to that level again in terms of winning the European Cup and challenging for the title. Despite the good intentions of Financial Fair Play, the reality is that clubs like Villa are at a major disadvantage as their revenues are low and that means progress has to be organic, and therefore slow. Given the combination of that and the fact that Villa don’t have the strategic thinking in place to change things, I’d be surprised if they can get there any time soon – maybe new owners may have a clear idea of what to do, but we’re still looking at ten, fifteen, twenty years to get to that kind of level, and that’s with a bit of luck thrown in.
10) What is your all time villa xi with gaffer and three subs.
The first thought is to just say the 1982 League and European Cup winning team because of what they achieved. However, that’s a real cop-out for me, and I was only 3 when they won it so I’ll go with:
Olof Mellberg, Paul McGrath, Martin Laursen, Alan Wright
Gordon Cowans, Dennis Mortimer
Dwight Yorke, Christian Benteke, Andy Gray
Subs: Peter Withe, Brian Little, Benito Carbone
Manager: Ron Saunders (who else? That said Ron Atkinson feels like a close second and had Doug Ellis funded him, we’d be in a far different place to where we are now)
Perhaps some of that team is skewed toward players of my time growing up, but it’d have been a great team if they played together – Merson was exactly what Villa have struggled to have and it is his creativity that is the reason why I envy the likes of Mata in your team. Benni Carbone gets a place because he was a little genius and whilst he was inconsistent, it’s that flair that I love but something that rarely gets cultivated in Villa teams.