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Match Preview: Manchester United Vs Aston Villa (Pre-Season)

Arion Armeniakos

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Match Preview: Manchester United Vs Aston Villa (Pre-Season)

Manchester United touched down in Perth, Australia earlier this week ahead of the final pre-season fixture of the tour against Aston Villa on Saturday.

Erik ten Hag’s Reds are still undefeated at the halfway point of the Dutch manager's first pre-season since taking over at the helm.

Most recently, the Reds beat Crystal Palace 3-1 back in Melbourne and will look to continue their impressive start to life under new management. Another solid test against Premier League opposition awaits in Western Australia.

When and Where?

United have relocated since their double header in Melbourne and are now nearing the exit from the land down under with Perth being the final stop. 

Like most stadiums that the Reds visit around the world, the Optus Stadium — where Ten Hag’s men will take on Villa — is set to be painted red come Saturday morning. 

Aerial view of the beautiful Optus Stadium, in Perth. (Alamy)
Aerial view of the beautiful Optus Stadium, in Perth. (Alamy)

The last time United were able to go on a pre-season tour before the pandemic, they played two games in Perth instead of Melbourne — both hosted at this very venue. The Reds beat Perth Glory and Leeds in 2019. 

The game is scheduled to kick off at 10:45 BST and the broadcast is exclusive to MUTV. Full international kick off times can be viewed here

Expected changes in the squad? 

With three games already under the players’ belts, it’s getting close to that stage of pre-season where Ten Hag will be thinking about who he’ll select as part of his first XI against Brighton in just over three weeks’ time. 

We may have gotten a slight preview of that on Tuesday, when the side that the United boss started played until around the hour mark, as opposed to just 45 minutes. New signing Tyrell Malacia played an additional ten minutes in his first start for the club. 

As for expected changes, you’d figure to expect less and less. However, Ten Hag will undoubtedly want to see some more players get minutes alongside the bulk of players he thinks are nailed on to start the Premier League opener. 

Saturday’s game could see Raphael Varane return into the fold. The Frenchman has been dealing with a knock since United’s inaugural victory over Liverpool. Another player who has suffered an injury setback and is set to be part of the matchday squad is James Garner.

James Garner is yet to feature in pre-season due to injury. (Alamy)
James Garner is yet to feature in pre-season due to injury. (Alamy)

The promising midfielder had an excellent loan spell at Nottingham Forest last season and Ten Hag will certainly want to have an extensive look at him before deciding on his future — with a search for a new midfielder still ongoing externally. 

The game against Palace saw Hannibal register his first minutes of pre-season, leaving the promising starlet Alejandro Garnacho as the only name of note still without an appearance on the tour. That could change over the weekend. 

What has Ten Hag said?

The new man in the United hot seat spoke to MUTV after United’s entertaining victory over Palace and remained coy on his team’s improvement in style and effort despite some mesmerizing attacking play.

Ten Hag said: “It’s pre-season. We are happy with the improvement we see, but there’s also a lot of work to do. But we scored some wonderful goals, that’s also true.”

The boss then shared his thoughts about the way in which the players are executing his ideas thus far. The 52-year-old revealed that there are still some imperfections to be ironed out. 

“The timing, when you start the press for instance, I still see switches that we can avoid and can prepare a better press,” Ten Hag said. 

“They do a lot of work and running, you see often with offensive players that they think they miss energy in the offense. But you see, they put a lot of energy in defence and get rewarded by scoring goals, because we’re winning balls high up the pitch.”

Erik ten Hag has been very vocal on the touchline during pre-season. (Alamy)
Erik ten Hag has been very vocal on the touchline during pre-season. (Alamy)

Despite being cautious with overly praising his squad in the media, Ten Hag did acknowledge before the game against the Eagles that he too does see the steady progress.

“I see progression from day to day and it has to be that way because we have to be ready for the start of the Premier League,” the Dutchman said. 

Ones to Watch

Despite not yet having a direct goal contribution to his name on the tour, Bruno Fernandes has been quietly, yet diligently, going about his business and pulling a lot of the strings in United’s final third. 

Naturally, Bruno prides himself on being an often unplayable asset in United’s creation department. But, even though he hasn’t chipped in with a goal or an assist yet, what he has shown has been extremely promising. 

One of the biggest criticisms of the Portuguese playmaker in his time at United has been his somewhat frequent carelessness on the ball. Some call it reckless play, others see it as a player in charge of creating taking risks. Whatever the stance, losing possession too often can leave United vulnerable on the break. 

In the first three games of pre-season, Bruno looks to be a lot more calculated with his execution. He still looks for the final ball often. He still wants to play the line breaking pass that allows his teammates to dart into space and wreak havoc. But he’s doing it when it needs to be done. 

Bruno Fernandes in action against Liverpool in pre-season. (Alamy)
Bruno Fernandes in action against Liverpool in pre-season. (Alamy)

In football, sometimes you need to force the issue. However, there is a time and a place for everything. It’s a small sample size, but Bruno now seems to be recognizing that more and letting the game unfold in front of him before making a decision. 

By the laws of natural progression, that goal or assist should be coming any day now. 

An honourable mention goes to James Garner. In a sense, this was supposed to be his pre-season after dazzling down in the Championship last season. 

United desperately need midfield reinforcements and the 21-year-old has all the tools to contribute. After sitting out with a knock up until now, the clash against Villa may be his chance to begin his audition in front of the new boss.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Manchester United, Aston Villa, Erik Ten Hag, Bruno Fernandes, Premier League, Football

Arion Armeniakos
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