Aston Villa v Manchester United: Much More Than 3 Points at Stake

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Much has been said about it being too early to be out of the title race in November, mostly in relation to Arsenal. I argue that while mathematically that may be true, if you look at the recent history of points required to win the PL and points gaps that have been bridged, there are positions you can find yourself in that suggest it is very unlikely you can overcome the deficit, even if still only in November.

I suggested two weeks ago that the Man Utd game was a must win for Arsenal if they were to stay in the race and they duly delivered, only to put themselves out of contention with a loss at home to Villa last week.

The stats I used were the following (now updated for the Villa game):

With 16 points dropped in their first 13 games, and assuming that you need a minimum of 86 points to win the title, Arsenal can only afford to drop 12 points in their remaining 25 games to have any realistic hope of lifting the title. That would be 20 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats. Based on their form so far this season you would have to say that’s too big an ask.

But enough about Arsenal, what of this weekend? With Chelsea at home to Newcastle and Liverpool hosting Fulham you would have to expect that the top two will record maximum points, all of which means that the Utd/Villa game is a huge fixture, particularly for Utd.

While Villa have been a bit inconsistent this season, Martin O’Neill is slowly weaving his magic and confidence will be high after the comprehensive victory at the Emirates last week (something Utd couldn’t achieve a week earlier). Add to that the confidence gained by some of Villa’s elite in the midweek international (Barry, Agbonlahor and Young) and you would expect a home team full of belief taking to the pitch on Saturday.

There is no pressure on Villa, yet. Finishing 5th would be a great achievement, 4th way beyond expectations, but if Villa win on Saturday they could find themselves in the lofty position of 3rd, depending on how the erratic Arsenal do at Man City. At the very least they will be 4th and looking down at last seasons’ champions. If so, and accepting that results breathe confidence, this could be the launch pad for a Villa assault on the top 4. What greater incentive do their players need? Suffice to say that Villa should be 110% up for the game.

However, there is arguably much more at stake for Utd. Let me put them in the same position I put Arsenal in two weeks ago. If Utd lose on Saturday then they will have dropped 15 points in 13 games. In order to make 86 points for the season (suggested above as the minimum likely to be required to win the title) then Utd could only afford to drop 13 points in their remaining 25 games. Same logic applies as for the Arsenal point. A huge ask!

Considering Chelsea have only dropped 7 points, even with a protracted injury list, you have to believe that as they get some key players back later in the season they will drop fewer, not more, points. All of which suggests that 86 points may well be conservative as a winning total.

To look at it another way, if Chelsea and Liverpool win and Utd lose then the gap will be 11 points, you can argue 8 if Utd win their game in hand. By recent PL standards in the top 4 that’s a huge gap and arguably insurmountable when chasing two teams. One might implode but both?

Add to that the assessment of what gets you into such a chasing position. Can you change it around instantly and go on a 10 match winning streak? Unlikely! Utd started the season poorly, like last season. Injuries have played a part but as far as I’m concerned neither Utd nor Chelsea can ever use injuries as an excuse considering the squads they have. For me the problem at Utd is lack of continuity, injuries aside. This started in the back end of last season. I firmly believe that SAF no longer knows what his best 11 is and hasn’t for some time. But I can’t point the finger here as neither do I.

When Utd won the title 2 season ago the midfield, when everyone was fit (and they mostly were), picked itself. Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes and Giggs. Scholes and Giggs both had huge seasons and the four developed an understanding that was palpable. The worry at that time was strength in depth. Along came Nani, Anderson and Hargreaves and Fletcher has improved greatly. Problem solved! Or was it? With nine midfielders to choose from (Ronaldo, Giiggs, Nani, Park, Anderson, Scholes, Hargreaves (now out for the season), Carrick and Fletcher) Ferguson has caused problems with too much variation. On one level it’s great to have so much quality to choose from but on another, if no players are ‘demanding’ their place through performance, you end up chopping and changing too much and there is a loss of continuity and understanding.

Add to that the addition of Berbatov and you have a situation where there are three 30m strikers competing for two positions. A great luxury you might say and rightly so! However, Utd now have the same confusion in attack as they have in midfield. We need to keep everyone happy so let’s over rotate. True, Tevez has mainly been the fall guy so far but, as yet, there has been no combination that has gelled or excelled and, again, I suggest that Ferguson is spoilt for choice and can’t make up his mind. Add to that the pressure to play a player you have just paid 30m for and you’re into the domain of being influenced by factors that may not be in the best interest of the what team you put out to play.

Utd have more than enough ability to win the PL but you can only put 11 players on the pitch at any one time. Continuity and understanding are huge factors in the fine margins that determine the winners of the big prizes these days and I believe this is what Utd have been lacking this season. Getting it right is not easy: Scholes or Anderson; Giggs, Nani or Park; Carrick or Fletcher; Rooney/Berbatov, Rooney/Tevez, Berbatov/Tevez? Some players need to step up and Freguson needs to understand what his best 11, or at least his best 13, is.

Unless there are some very unexpected results elsewhere this weekend, failure to win at Villa, for my money, means Utd will not retain the title this year.

And that effectively makes it a 1 horse race!

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