| 18.2°C Dublin

fixture pile-up Whatever team Solskjaer he puts out, I still expect Manchester United to beat Villa


Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Peter Powell/PA)

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Peter Powell/PA)

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Peter Powell/PA)

The game I most hate during the season is on this afternoon, with Aston Villa hosting Manchester United.

I played the bulk of my professional career with the two clubs and still have a great grá in my heart for the Red Devils and the Claret and Blue.

When they play each other, something has to go wrong for me.

Villa will be without their best player, Jack Grealish, today and I feel that will cost them any chance of a win.

I’m sure Jack would love to be playing today, if only to show off his wares to Manchester United.

He must be getting a little worried now too.

As this is now eight games the lad has missed for the Villa and the kick-off of Euro 2020, that’s what it is still officially called, is just a month away. He’ll want to be playing soon before Gareth Southgate has to settle on his squad for the matches.

Regardless of what happens today, it has been a great season for Aston Villa.

The 7-2 spanking of Liverpool was a highlight, and there was even one week, I think it was in January, where if Aston Villa had won all their back matches, they would have been top of the Premier League. Crazy stuff.

Manager Dean Smith (below)has done a great job – and even if European football next year might just pass them by when all 38 games are played, it has still been a great campaign.


Not for one minute were Aston Villa ever in danger of relegation.

Has it been a great season for United? No!

Coming a distant second to their neighbours is not what the club is about and, yes, they are in the Europa League final.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

But as I pointed out here last week, that is the ‘B’ competition. United are not supposed to be in it!

Oh, and don’t think United are just going to turn up and win the final on Wednesday fortnight in Gdansk.

Villarreal showed against Arsenal last Thursday night, that they are a tough, well-organised side who will not be cowed by United’s history or reputation.

They are trying to win the first European trophy in the club’s history and are led by a wily manager in Unai Emery, who is going for his fourth Europa League triumph.

And, one other thing. United know they are going to be in next year’s Champions League anyway, courtesy of finishing second in the Premier League.

Villarreal have to win the game to get into the Champions League next season.

For all those reasons, they will be fired up for the Europa League final, big-time.

That’s a future worry for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The present trouble is that United are in the middle of a run of four matches in eight days.


Last Thursday’s trip to Rome, is followed by another away outing this afternoon and then home games against Leicester City and Liverpool to come on Tuesday and Thursday.

I don’t believe Ole will play his strongest side today, he is much more likely to rest players for the two midweek matches.

But whatever XI he puts out, I still expect Manchester United to beat Villa today.

There will be huge interest in the Liverpool match in five days time, after the protests which caused it to be postponed last Sunday.

The outburst of fan anger reminded me of my dear late mother and her pressure cooker years ago.

There comes a time with a pressure cooker when you have to release the valve to let the steam out.

And last Sunday was that time for Manchester United supporters.

They had had enough of the way the club was being run by its owners, the Glazer family.

And this was their way of putting the owners on notice that they were not at all happy.

My Sunday World colleague, Roy Curtis, came up with an interesting suggestion as to how the Glazers might get the supporters back on side.

One was to do some badly needed painting and decorating at Old Trafford.

They missed their chance to do that easily while the stadium hasn’t seen a visitor for the last 14 months.

His other suggestion is very much alive however – that the United board give Ole a blank cheque to buy his choice of Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe or Harry Kane.

Tell the manager that, whatever it takes, the board will pay the money for one of them.

Whoever he buys, at a stroke of a pen, turns United into title contenders – no matter how good Manchester City may be now, or Liverpool might be again next season.


Given a fair wind with injuries, any of those three top strikers would surely score 25 goals next season.

And 25 goals will win you an awful lot of Premier League points, and several European and domestic Cup matches. It would be a game-changer for United.

Put their new superstar striker on the same team-sheet as Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, a motivated Paul Pogba, and a still-learning Mason Greenwood, and suddenly United’s prospects are alive and kicking again.

And if Greenwood could continue to learn from Edinson Cavani next season, then things would really be looking up for United and their supporters.

My belief is that last weekend’s protests do have their roots in fan frustration at the way Manchester United has been run since Alex Ferguson gave up managing the team and the very savvy, and steeped-in-football, David Gill left the boardroom in 2013.

But Sky pundit Graeme Souness had a serious point, too.

No matter what sort of European Super League was being proposed, would last Sunday’s protests have gone ahead if United were sitting atop the Premier League?

With the risk that the league might then fine United for failing to fulfil the fixture and award the points to Liverpool? Are you kidding me?

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices