United travel to Aston Villa this evening hoping to put behind them an embarrassing home defeat to Crystal Palace behind them. There’s lots of the usual talk, post Carling Cup, that we played our youngsters and fringe players. True this may be but, equally, we started with nine internationals and some players with vast amounts of Premier and Champions’ League experience. Did that fixture spell the end of some of the players’ United careers? I fear it may for the likes of Gibson, Diouf and maybe even Macheda and Berbatov. Anyway, Villa Park…
United have an exceptional record there, highlighted by the fact that the last Villa player to score in a Villa win at Villa Park was none other than big toothed, flamboyant tie wearing, Jordan loving Dwight Yorke! One of the oldest cliches in the book states that ‘records are made to be broken’ and that is something that Ferguson’s old Aberdeen defensive rock, Alex McLeish, will be drumming into his legion. However, it is one that United must ensure doesn’t come true if they want to stay in the title race. With City welcoming Norwich to the Etihad Stadium prior to the game United can quite comfortably expect to be eight points behind before kicking off against the Villains. A win, quite simply, even this early on, is a must. People keep pointing to Chelsea’s bright start last year and subsequent failure to maintain it. However, Chelsea didn’t have to playing reserves that City do.
United will probaby start with de Gea in goal and with Vidic in front of him. Both da Silva twins are out injured so that probaby ensures Evra a starting spot at left back. As for right back and Vidic’s defensive partner they’ll come from Jones, Smalling, Evans and Ferdinand. I was an interested observer of Evans’ performance against Palace on Wednesday and I still can’t help but feel he’s not playing as a Manchester United defender. Still, I predicted that Anderson would fill Scholes’ void this year!
In midfield it’d be nice to see Young return to his old stomping ground and show Villa fans what they’ll be missing. Nani, for me, has to start on the other wing as, along with Rooney, he’s one of our few match winners. Valencia may get a game but he’s another who has me pulling my hair out. For such a quick winger who is so clearly one footed he cuts in far too often. When on the ball he must get to the by-line and drill crosses in. Nani and Young represent wingers who can play wide or inside and that is an admirable skill. Valencia, like Kanchelskis before him can’t but, unlike Kanchelskis who hugged his touchline, tries over and over again.
The middle of the park is proving to be a case of pick who’s not injured! Cleverly and Anderson are long term injury sufferers so Carrick seems assured of a place after a few assured performances. His partner could be one of Giggs, Fletcher or Park. I’m sincerely hoping that the Rooney as a midfielder experiment is over. Not because he couldn’t play there but because we need him further up the field.
Talking of Rooney he has to start up front and will, more than likely, be partnered by Hernandez. Hernandez isn’t a footballer’s footballer but he is a goal scorer. He’s from the same mould as Lineker and Owen – a proverbial fox in the box. With an ageing celtic defence of Dunne and Collins in front of him he will be excited to play off their shoulder and try and get in behind them as often as possible. This is where the vision and accuracy of Rooney and Carrick should set him free. Shay Given, between the sticks, will however, offer more celtic resistance as he enters the twilight of his superb career.
Speaking of career twilights, a special mention must go to Emile Heskey who makes his 500th Premiership appearance tomorrow becoming only the sixth player in the history of the league to do so. Many, myself included, may have mocked his lack of flamboyance and apparent ability but to rack up 500 Premier League apperances is no mean feat. Two others to have done so? Our own Ryan Giggs, and the late, great Gary Speed.
Gary Speed, RIP.