It’s business as usual at Bodymoor Heath as Steven Gerrard prepares his Aston Villa team for an FA Cup third-round performance at Old Trafford on Monday night.
Gerrard, 41, has masterminded a blockbuster transfer that saw Philippe Coutinho move Barcelona to Birmingham in a loan deal for the rest of the season.
The Brazilian is still in quarantine and has recently tested positive for COVID, but will fly during the next 48 hours to complete his medical.
That means Coutinho is expected to be unavailable for Manchester United’s visit to Villa on Monday – but the playmaker is in line to make his debut at Villa Park against the Red Devils in the Premier League next weekend – January 15 (Kick-off at 5.30 pm, sky game).
Back in Monday’s cup game, and Gerrard has already explained that he will be “as strong as possible” in order to take down Ralph Rangnick’s men.
United were beaten by Wolves on Monday, with their Portuguese manager Bruno Lage calling Villa United’s biggest weakness.
If Gerard needed any tactical inspiration, Ledge brazenly revealed how the Wolves destroyed Rangnik’s 4-2-2-2 system in a post-match interview.
“The most important thing for us is to see where the full-backs are,” the Wolves boss told Sky Sports. “To find spaces, to see where they are when they are defending and when they are attacking.
“If you look in the first half, when they are defending and trying to block – I saw it from the bench – they have [Edinson] Cavani trying to stop Ruben, Cristiano Ronaldo trying to control [Conor] Kodi and the wings inside.
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“So the space is out. So Semedo and Markle had a lot of chances and a lot of balls in the first half and the boys found those places.
“That’s why it’s so important when you have the ball to know where the spot is and when they’re defending.”
It could point to a change in Gerrard’s favorite 4-3-2-1 system, then Villa are set to welcome Ollie Watkins to training on Saturday.
Watkins could be tasked with staying high and wide from the left with Gerrard after scoring his first Villa goal at Brentford since mid-October last week, no doubt eager to get a few more minutes in Danny Ings Huh.
Meanwhile, Gerrard told reporters that he has not yet decided whether Jade Steer has been Villa’s Cup goalkeeper, knowing who starts scoring. However, Amy Martinez is ready to start once again if Villa is to come out strong.
On the Argentine front, Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, returnee Tyrone Mings and Matt Targett are the favorites to start in a back four. The target position is the riskiest, but according to Gerard, Ashley Young has an “outside chance” of getting fit, knowing he’s still battling a fractured toe.
In midfield for Villa, it would be three of John McGuin, Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey and Morgan Sanson.
Staying with Sanson, the Frenchman was dropped the following week at Brentford, but could be promoted back to the starting XI in a bid to increase his match sharpness.
In attacking areas for Villa and, as already mentioned, Watkins could be tasked with getting the better of Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Diogo Dalot, depending on who starts. . Given the unavailability of Léon Bailey (injured), Trezeguet and Bertrand Trior (both AFCON) at present, it would be similar in the opposite direction with Villa currently lacking wingers, including Amy Bendia.
Here’s how we think Gerard will make his Villa debut at Old Trafford on Monday, 7.55pm (live on BBC One)…
Aston Villa Prediction XI vs Manchester United (4-3-3): Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Target; McGinn, Sanson, Douglas Luiz; Buendia, Ings, Watkins.
Squad from: Steer, Haus, Feeney, Chukwuemeka, J. Ramsey, Philogen-Bides, Iroegbunum, Archer, El Ghazzi.
Unavailable: Coutinho, Traore, Trezeguet, Bailey.
Manchester United vs Wolves last out, lost 1-0: of life; Wan-Bissaka (Elanga, 84), Jones, Varane, Shaw; McTomin, Matic; Greenwood (Fernandes, 60), Sancho (Rashford, 76); Cavani, Ronaldo.
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