Premier League Preview: Aston Villa vs. Manchester United

Leave a comment
  • Villa winless in 10 vs. United
  • United 82W-37D-43L in top flight series
  • Paul Lambert 0-4 vs. United as Villa boss

Manchester United is the hottest team in the Premier League, but can Christian Benteke and his club use Villa Park to cool off the Red Devils on Saturday? (Watch live on NBCSN at 10am ET and online via Live Extra).

It would’ve been juicier with former Manchester United captain Roy Keane still in the Aston Villa dugout, but we’ll make due with the hosts looking to beat the Red Devils for the first time in more than half a decade.

Villa Park hasn’t been a fortress for the Villans, and that’s underlined when bigger teams visit. Villa’s been beaten by Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester City at home, and drew Southampton 1-1.

As for United, they could have Angel Di Maria back in the fold. Marouane Fellaini will be unavailable due to illness, but Di Maria’s participation will come down to match fitness.

Ron Vlaar and Fabian Delph are back for Villa.

WATCH LIVE SATURDAY ON NBCSN AT 10AM ET AND ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

What they’re saying

United’s Louis van Gaal on getting the form to match the results: “Okay, the results are very good, but we can improve the performances of the team. I don’t think it was a great surprise that we won against Liverpool, neither for the players. The game against Hull City was a good game.”

Villa boss Paul Lambert on facing United: “I have the belief. We are playing well. I can see that in training, the confidence is there. We will go and try to win. We are up against a good team but also we have players who can hurt them. I am not going to sit here and be negative about it. I have total belief that we will go out there and try to win a game of football.”

Prediction

Like so many top strikers, Benteke is key as Villa tests the United back line. Di Maria’s return could be a lift for an already-flying squad, though, too. It’s hard to imagine either side keeping a clean sheet, even with top-end matches from keepers Brad Guzan and David De Gea. Call it 3-2 to the visitors, who keep up their long winning streak.

Lacazette gives Arsenal first leg at Olympiacos

Arsenal
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alexandre Lacazette scored the lone goal as Arsenal beat hosts Olympiacos 1-0 in the first leg of a Europa League Round of 32 tie on Thursday.

The second leg is Feb. 27 at the Emirates Stadium, four days after the Gunners host Carlo Ancelotti and Everton in Premier League play.

Lacazette now has eight goals in 24 appearances for Arsenal this season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Lacazette missed a big early chance from close range, Gabriel Martinelli deprived of a near-certain assist.

Fortunately for Lacazette, he got a second bite at the apple and smashed it home with a vengeance. Bukayo Saka continued his impressive debut season by assisting the goal.

It was an even match, as Olympiacos continued its habit of steady defense but was unable to produce any attack. The Greeks weren’t credited with the creation of any big chances.

Bernd Leno made three saves and was very good in distribution on the day, with Saka, David Luiz, Shkrodan Mustafi, and Sokratis Papastathopoulus continuing steady defense under Mikel Arteta.

Wolves clobber Espanyol, Neves scores another magnificent volley

Wolverhampton Wanderers
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Diogo Jota had a hat trick and Ruben Neves scored a very Ruben Neves goal as Wolves took a 4-0 lead over Espanyol on Thursday after one leg of Europa League Round of 32 action.

Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho, and Matt Doherty recorded assists for Wolves, who will visit the Portuguese side on Feb. 27.

Espanyol had 57 percent of the ball and put four shots on target to Wolves’ five.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Wolves came out of the gates with a show of strength, taking six shots to Espanyol’s zero over the first 25 minutes.

The goal came off an Adama Traore-won corner, Raul Jimenez flicking on to Jota.

Neves’ goal came straight from his area of expertise, a beautiful bit of control with his chest before smashing home from distance.

The 23-year-old Jota scored the first, third, and fourth goals of the contest to give him two Europa League hat tricks this season. He has 12 goals and five assists in 33 appearances across all competitions this season.

Solskjaer, Mata react to Man Utd draw: ‘We can play better’

Photo by JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United got an away goal in a 1-1 first leg draw with Europa League foes Club Brugge in Belgium on Thursday.

The goals were pretty individual, a big chip of Sergio Romero followed by Anthony Martial’s powerful dribble to equalize for the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

United outshot the hosts 16-10, but fell short in big chances created by a 3-1 margin.

Here’s Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, via the BBC:

“It was a game with difficult conditions out there. It was almost like an astroturf. The ball was very quick and lively,” Solskjaer said. “We got the away goal. It was a very good individual goal, worked hard to win the ball and finish so we are happy with that but we know we can play better.”

The second leg is Feb. 27 at Old Trafford, four days after a Premier League encounter with Watford in the same building.

United midfielder Juan Mata had a busy day, winning the majority of his tackles and creating one key pass. He expected better from his team but sees the game for what it is.

Here is Mata, from The Manchester Evening News:

“They scored a goal we shouldn’t concede. We scored a goal from their mistake. we wanted to win, obviously, 1-1 is not a very bad result, but we always want to win,” Mata said. “We just couldn’t find spaces, they defended very well with five plus four. We tried to play a few times through the middle, which we didn’t succeed to do that. Then we scored that goal and from then we played a bit better.”

Solskjaer kept Bruno Fernandes, Fred, Daniel James, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the bench to start the match. Fernandes and Fred came on late.

FC Cincinnati adds Ajax midfielder Siem de Jong

Siem de Jong
Photo by Rico Brouwer/Soccrates/Getty Images
Leave a comment

FC Cincinnati got a much-needed bit of good news toward the end of a rough week in Southern Ohio.

Longtime Ajax attacker Siem De Jong has joined a talented FCC attack ahead of the club’s second MLS season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

De Jong, 31, came up through Ajax’s vaunted academy before transferring to Newcastle United, where he suffered through a series of miserable injuries including two collapsed lungs in 18 months.

He’s been capped six times with two goals for the Netherlands in his career and will join a revitalized Cincinnati attack with Jurgen Locadia and Yuya Kubo.

“The system they want to play is quite similar to the Dutch system, and yeah, Ajax is probably one of the team’s that perfected it,” de Jong said. “Over the years I played there, I’ve learned a lot about this similar philosophy and trying to build up from the back in the Dutch style of play. That was one of the reasons why FC Cincinnati was a good fit for me. Hopefully I can help with the experience I’ve had over the years playing this style of football.”

De Jong scored three times in nine matches this season for Ajax, all of the goals coming in a cup match against third-tier Spakenburg. His other eight matches combined for just 118 minutes.

He may not be with FCC when the season starts as he waits on visa approval.