Alan Dudman previews Manchester United's trip to Villa Park this Sunday, and he is backing the visitors despite the prospect of wholesale changes...
"They are unbeaten in 21 top flight away games at Aston Villa, winning 14 since 1996. That's the longest run one team has had in English League history."
Aston Villa v Manchester United
Sunday 9 May, kick-off 14:05
Live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event
Villa seeking back-to-back wins
Aston Villa head into Sunday's showdown with Manchester United seeking out back-to-back wins for the first time this year following their 1-2 victory away at Everton. Ollie Watkins and Anwar El Ghazi helped themselves to a goal each on that occasion, with the latter scoring in his last two appearances.
The performance, and indeed the whole 90 minutes was a strange affair at Goodison. Breathless in the first 45, yet a tepid second period. A classic game of two halves.
However, Dean Smith's side are consolidating their position in mid-table and they've shown a big improvement from last season and the fact that Villa were four points behind Everton following that draw confirms the progression.
Who knows where they could have been if Jack Grealish had been fit? Their talisman and attacking, creative force has been missing the last 11 games with a shin injury, and won't be fit for Sunday either. Watching Sky Sports last weekend, Roy Keane identified two players that Manchester United need to sign; Harry Kane and Grealish.
Ole's on the right path
It's a while before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can enter the pantheon of elite coaches in Europe. Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel etc, but this season should be seen as a resounding success.
Their neighbours City have been head and shoulders above everyone else, but United have closed the gap. Good recruitment and more evolution could see the difference shorten, and this summer will be a big test for the Norwegian in terms of ability to attract some big names. Grealish and Kane would be top of my list too if I was a Red Devil.
Heading into Sunday, Solskjaer has already sounded the warning that he will ring plenty of changes to ease the burden of a frantic spell of games upcoming. They've sealed their final berth in the Europa League, a competition United have treated with great respect recently.
In terms of what sort of team to expect, there has been talk of a completely new eleven, which makes life difficult for bettors. However, no one can argue with their unbeaten run that stretches back to November in the Premier League.
Despite the prospect of United making wholesale changes due to their recent schedule of five games in 13 days, the market is firmly behind the visitors here at 1.855/6.
They are unbeaten in 21 top flight away games at Aston Villa, winning 14 since 1996. That's the longest run one team has had in English League history. If you back United and lose this weekend, you'll feel pretty unlucky with yourself breaking that run, but it's happened to all of us at one stage. Me plenty of times.
This game finished 2-1 at Old Trafford earlier in the season, with the Midlanders deserving perhaps a point with a questionable penalty for the hosts. But Villa without Grealish are not as strong, and even at 4.77/2 for the visitors, it's a price I can leave alone as I worry about their ability to shut out Manchester United as they haven't kept a clean sheet in their last seven matches.
The Under 2.5 layers are actually expecting goals for this, with the Under at 1.75/7 and the Over chalked up at 2.111/10.
With United understandably short, the Bet Builder can be utilised to give a bit more oomph to the 1.855/6 price.
I know my good friend and colleague Kevin Hatchard is a Bruno Fernandes disciple, especially when it comes to backing him for Anytime Goalscorer. Even though he's had a quiet spell by his standards (Fernandes not Kev), his 16 goals from midfield is a fine return and when he is at full throttle, he's a wonderful player to watch with his instinct.
The Portuguese midfielder has scored in both of his games against Villa (both penalties). So it makes sense backing him at 7/5 and United to win in a double that pays 3.2. However, with changes expected, we don't know if he will start.
Mason Greenwood with the same bet pays 3.3, and that's something to consider.
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Alan Dudman's 2020/21 Premier League P&L