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Preview: Key duel could decide Manchester United clash

Aston Villa and Manchester United both won 1-0 last weekend. Tomorrow, they meet under the floodlights at Villa Park, and a duel between two tall guys could make the difference.

Chris Smalling, left, marks Harry Kane during United’s 1-0 win over Spurs on Saturday at Old Trafford.
Chris Smalling, left, marks Harry Kane during United’s 1-0 win over Spurs on Saturday at Old Trafford.
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ah, Friday night football. The smell of brats and burgers on the grill. The sound of the marching band entering the stadium. The sight of the cheerleaders… eh, forget it, nobody pays attention to them anyway.

Wait, it’s not that Friday night football? Oh.

Thanks, English Defence League! You’re a deplorable organization, but you’ve kept me from having to wake up early this weekend, and that’s terribly nice of you.

Yes, Aston Villa and Manchester United will give us a glimpse of the future when they meet tomorrow night at Villa Park, the first, and only, Friday night match in advance of the 2016/17 campaign when teams will meet to end the work week on 10 occasions.

Last week, my preview was not very good, because Tim Sherwood was pretty smart with his tactics. Let’s see if I can do better this week…

What to know about Villa

Rudy Gestede!

(Oh, I have to write more? Alright.)

Unless you’re Patrick Star, you’re well aware Gestede scored a super nice headed goal to lift Villa to victory last week at AFC Bournemouth, and even though Tim Sherwood said Gestede isn’t quite fit for a full 90 minutes yet, it’d a surprise if he didn’t make the starting XI tomorrow.

One of the basic philosophies of sport is to find the thing you’re better than everyone else at, and do it over and over again until it eventually works. It’s the underlying thought behind Tony Pulis’s long-throw Stoke sides or Swansea City’s possession-based football: These teams make up for their lesser talent by finding that thing they’re really good at, and exploiting it over and over again.

Rudy Gestede’s aerial prowess might be that thing Villa are better than everyone else at, so expect to see Jordan Amavi and Leandro Bacuna whipping in the crosses left and right tomorrow night. Gana (Idrissa Gueye) looked really good in the second half too, while we’ll see who drops up front to make way for Gestede in the XI.

Sherwood tried to contain Bournemouth for much of the first half last weekend, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he used a similar tactic to settle the match down this week at Villa Park. On the flip side, he might be anxious to get on the front foot, using the roar of the Holte End to try and gain an early foothold in the match. We’ll see.

What to know about United

They have good players! No, seriously. Every player who plays tomorrow night for Manchester United would walk into the Villa side, and that’s part of the issue when going up against a big side: If they turn up, and play to their abilities, there’s very little chance you have of getting a result.

Against Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, United ground out a 1-0 win where they probably weren’t the better side; but that’s what you can do when you score inside 25 minutes. Wayne Rooney’s shot took a deflection off Kyle Walker and into the back of the net, and that was that.

Going into tomorrow’s game though, for all the star power United have, Chris Smalling may be the most-important man on the pitch for either side. Daley Blind, who doesn’t even crack 6 feet, was his centre-back partner Saturday against Spurs, and if the same duo start in the centre of defence Friday, Smalling will have to be the man who gets the job in the air against Gestede.

For everywhere else United might dominate, all Gestede may need is one chance to change the game; Smalling will have to be alert at all times for the Red Devils. They’re a beatable side, but I feel we’ve said that a few times now about them.

Also: They’re probably without David de Gea, which is cool. Sergio Romero played well against Spurs though, so it’s not like we’ll be banging 5 past him.

The odds

Bovada: Villa 9/2, United 20/33, Draw 3/1
Paddy Power: Villa 4/1, United 4/6, Draw 14/5
Sky Bet: Villa 4/1, United 4/6, Draw 14/5

The prediction

Villa never win this fixture, and despite United probably not being that great right now, I just can’t see it happening this time. Maybe I’m jaded. Gestede will get on the scoresheet again for the Claret and Blues, but it’s not enough.

Aston Villa 1, Manchester United 3