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Villa v. Manchester United Preview: A shock on the cards?

Aston Villa visit Manchester United mired in the relegation scrap. Could a shock be on the cards or will United pressure Villa into mistake after mistake?

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It's April.

For this Villa team, that's business time.

Tomorrow starts a grueling run of five games that will play a big role in determining the legacy of this Aston Villa side. They start at Old Trafford against Manchester United, then return home Tuesday to take on Queens Park Rangers in a huge relegation six-pointer. From there, it's a trip to White Hart Lane for what is an incredibly tasty fixture, a trip to Wembley against someone in the FA Cup semi-final, and finally a trip to the Etihad to take on Manchester City.

Needless to say, anything Villa could pull out of the hat tomorrow would be much, much appreciated.

Louis van Gaal's side are coming off that big win at Anfield two weeks ago — thanks in part to Steven Gerrard being an idiot — and will surely be looking to put more distance between them and the pack chasing them; Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur.

But the biggest thing that's been lost on a lot of people this year are that… Manchester United aren't that great of a side. Sure, they've pot lucked their way into enough wins to get them to the point where they'll likely finish fourth, but that doesn't necessarily mean they've been a great side. They only rank as the sixth-best team in both Michael Caley's adjusted and unadjusted expected goals ratio and quite frankly, they haven't done much to scare me this year.

We saw that on display back in December, when a 10-man Villa effectively outplayed the Red Devils at Villa Park. Granted, Villa came away with a point when they maybe should have had three, but it certainly shows there's something Tim Sherwood's team can get out of this match.

Christian Benteke's going to have to be on top form though if Villa are to get something out of this. When the teams met in December, he was the difference maker for the Claret and Blues with a superb strike from, well, not much of anything.

Obviously, this is far from a must-win match, nor should it be — United have lost just twice at home this year — but it's one that it would be super nice for Villa to get something out of.

As we saw a lot under Paul Lambert, Villa's team as it's constructed is often well-suited for these matches. Pacey players like Scott Sinclair and Gabby Agbonlahor give Villa the speed needed to burn the top clubs on the counterattack. It's fun to watch when it goes well but incredibly miserable to watch when it doesn't.

But unlike they did two weeks ago against Swansea, Villa are going to have to finish their chances. In all reality, Villa should've had a goal on the board against Swans but didn't. That's the difference between a point and nothing. If Benteke, Agbonlahor and Sinclair don't bring their shooting boots, it's not worth dealing with; Villa aren't keeping a clean sheet tomorrow.

And, realistically speaking, Villa should be able to score against what isn't the best United defence of all time.

If we go back to the xG ratings from earlier, United's xG "conceded" this year is 35. Villa's is just a smudge higher; 36.4. But the difference between the two sides in actual goals conceded is huge — the Red Devils have conceded just 27, the Villans just 39.

Whether it means United are simply allowing low-quality chances to pile up and artificially inflate their xGC numbers (like Villa did a lot at the beginning of the year) or that van Gaal's side has been pretty lucky this year, it shows there are goal ready for Villa's forwards to take.

I mean, last time out, LvG put out a back four of Daley Blind, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Antonio Valencia. That doesn't scare me.

But what does scare me is how his side beat Liverpool last time out; by pressing the Reds up the pitch.

Whenever Villa go to one of the big sides, it's the worst-case scenario. Villa doesn't spend much time with the ball and when they do, they're pressured into turnover after turnover. If Villa can't get out on the break, it's going to be a long, long day. They'll have to be smart in getting the ball out of the defensive half and can't concede possession easily — Charles N'Zogbia, it's not time to drop performances now.

Ultimately, my heart tells me this is the game Villa get something out of at Old Trafford.

The brain? Can't say it agrees.

P.S. – United supporters are the worst.