Manchester United v Aston Villa
FA Cup Third Round
Live on BBC One
No progress at all under Rangnick
Even by Manchester United’s worst post-Sir Alex Ferguson performances – and there’s been some pretty woeful ones – the drivel being served up since Ralf Rangnick took over is something else.
Rangnick had been labelled the godfather of tactics and the master of the press in some quarters before and after being appointed United’s interim boss. Either that lavish praise was somewhat exaggerated, or this current Manchester United squad is way below the standard required to challenge for major honours.
I suspect it’s a bit of both.
Against Norwich and Newcastle – the bottom two clubs in the Premier League – United performed terribly. There was no press to be seen. Home wins against Crystal Palace and Burnley were achieved with okay performances, but at home to Wolves Rangnick’s men were dismal, outclassed in every department, and conceded a staggering 15 first half shots to a team that had scored just 13 league goals all season.
Something is most definitely wrong at Old Trafford. Rumours that the dressing room is split, and that already the players are not buying into Rangnick’s tactics certainly have a ring of truth to them.
The question now is can Wreck-It-Ralf turn into Bob the Builder in time for Aston Villa’s FA Cup third round visit on Monday night?
Solid start for Gerrard
In terms of results, Aston Villa’s start under new boss Steven Gerrard has been much the same as United’s under Rangnick; both have won exactly half of their total games in charge.
And in terms of league points, Rangnick is performing better with a 66.67% return (10 from 15) while Gerrard has claimed only 50% of the 24 points available to Villa under his management.
But that’s where the positives for Rangnick end.
While the 63-year-old German had arguably the easiest start on paper any new United boss could have wished for, seven of Gerrard’s opening eight games were against top-half chasing teams, including the three best teams in the country, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.
But if we’re comparing United under Rangnick to Villa under Gerrard then the key difference has to be performances and attitude.
Gerrard’s men look to have bought into his methods and management instantly, and the imminent arrival of loan signing Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona has just heightened the feel-good factor around Villa Park.
Hosts massively on the drift
I knew I was previewing Manchester United v Aston Villa as early as Tuesday, and I have to admit to completely over-thinking the Match Odds on almost a daily basis since then.
A part of me believes that Rangnick’s men simply have to improve sooner rather than later.
But then you look at the body language and attitude of players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford – not to mention their form – the damning criticism by Luke Shaw, the rumours of dressing room unrest, and just this weekend Rangnick admitting that his players are still struggling to adapt to his tactics etc.
And then you can’t help but think, wow, this is a club in crisis.
When the market first opened United were matched at a low 1.548/15, Villa were matched at 7.06/1.
The odds at the time of this preview being published are: Man Utd 1.774/5, Villa 5.14/1, the Draw 4.03/1. So you don’t need me to tell you which team is being opposed and which one is being backed.
Starting line-ups are obviously going to be a massive factor in the odds at kick-off but I won’t be surprised one bit if United drift close to 2.01/1 in the build-up.
Take on the hosts however you choose
So from constantly thinking about how to play this game – I have to be honest, I don’t have any opinion whatsoever in the side markets without knowing the starting XI’s – I’ve come to the rather obvious conclusion that I just have to take on the hosts.
Gambling to me is a simple process, you either win or you lose. And as long as you’re comfortable with the reasons you back something then the losers are far easier to take.
What you should never do is back something half-hearted, which is a trap I very nearly fell into.
My gut feeling is that Rangnick will ring the changes for this FA Cup tie, and that the likes of Jesse Lingard, Donny van de Beek, Juan Mata, Anthony Elanga and possibly even Anthony Martial could be given some significant playing time.
And my initial feeling was that this team would perform better than recent starting XI’s and could be worth siding with.
But I think I’d look pretty silly if I said United were worth backing at odds-on based on Rangnick possibly making wholesale changes, and that there’s no evidence to suggest that the above named players are buying into the new manager’s tactics any more than anyone else.
So let’s just go with what we know. United’s performances have been awful of late. Villa have been fine. There are definite problems within the United camp. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong at Villa Park.
But perhaps crucially, Gerrard – who would absolutely love nothing more than a win at Old Trafford – has promised to name a strong side which means that regardless of how United line up, they simply have to be opposed.
I would have been happy to lay the hosts at around 1.558/15 but unfortunately that ship has sailed and it’s now around 1.84/5 to get both the draw (90 minutes) and the away win on side. So instead I’ll back Aston Villa to win the game at 5.14/1 in the Match Odds.
Remember, there will be no replay should the match end all square after 90 minutes, it will be straight to extra time and penalties if needed. On the Sportsbook you can back Villa to qualify (win by any method) at 9/4 which I’m sure is a bet that will appeal to many.