Aston Villa-Manchester United Preview

·3 min read

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes there has been a big shift in the mentality of Manchester United's squad since he took charge two years ago, with his side sitting second in the Premier League.

Despite an iffy start to the campaign, United trail leaders Liverpool by just three points heading into 2021, and have a game in hand over the defending champions.

United are unbeaten in the league since November 1, when they lost 1-0 to Arsenal, and have won seven of their nine games in that run. They host in-form Aston Villa on Friday, and Solskjaer is thrilled with how his squad is performing.

"We have to know that so many games are decided towards the end," Solskjaer said. "We can't blow teams away and win at half-time. Discipline is there and we can play in a certain way, have players who can win a game in a second.

"They're two years older than when I came and some strong personalities have been a good influence. We have a strong competition for places which is good, only deserve to be in a team you contribute in. Everyone is privileged to be part of United."

Villa are one of the league's surprise packages this season, and Dean Smith's side – who drew with Chelsea last time out – would move to within a point of United with a win.

"We're looking forward to it," Smith said. "We had a good result there last year with a good performance in a 2-2 draw. They've added to their squad since and they're a strong team.

"With our results – against Liverpool, going to Arsenal, Leicester away and getting a point here – we've proven to ourselves that we can go and compete against anybody. We'll have total respect for them, but we certainly won't be fearing them."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Manchester United – Bruno Fernandes

Since his debut in February, Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in 32 goals in 29 games in the Premier League (18 goals, 14 assists). United have lost just three of their 29 Premier League games since the Portugal playmaker made his first appearance.

Aston Villa – Jack Grealish

Grealish turned in a start performance in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last season, and Villa's captain has been one of the league's standout performers this season. He has created 51 chances in 14 games this term, four more than Fernandes, who ranks second in the Premier League.

KEY OPTA FACTS

• United have lost just one of their last 43 Premier League games against Aston Villa (W31 D11) and are unbeaten in their last 15 since a 0-1 home loss in December 2009.

• Villa have not avoided defeat in consecutive league visits to Old Trafford since drawing 0-0 in both the 1995-96 and 1996-97 campaigns.

• United have won more games on New Year's Day than any other side in the history of the English Football League (35), while of teams to have played at least 10 games on 1st January the Red Devils also have the highest win rate (61 per cent - 35/57).

• Villa have taken 26 points from 14 Premier League games this season, 11 more than they had after as many games last season (15) – this increase of 11 points across seasons is their biggest improvement at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1998-99 (14 more than they had in 1997-98).

• Anwar El Ghazi has scored in each of his last three Premier League appearances for Aston Villa, the last player to score in four successive top-flight games for the club was Christian Benteke in April 2013.