This season Leicester’s most used Premier League starting 11 cost the grand sum of £23 million. This is the season that is supposed to prove that you don’t need money. You need desire, team work and a few more clichés to win England and maybe the world’s premier football league competition, but not money. Not this season. Leicester’s wage bill is allegedly amongst the bottom five sides of this league. Lower than ours. Lower than Sunderland’s. Lower than Vile’s. Yet it us three (and Norwich, but they’re newly promoted so it’s okay) sides who face a tortuous Saturday in May, not Leicester. Ironically the solution of the sides who’ve slipped behind Leicester’s ‘moneyless’ success is most likely to spend more money than they’ve ever spent before. To outspend the team that didn’t spend. There’s something that makes me feel a bit low in that. I’m no Leicester fan. I’m pleased they won this league. I’m pleased for the 16k who turned up at their lowest point in League One in the 08/09 season. I’m delighted for these people. These Leicester fans.
Aston Villa Football Club have had their comeuppance. It’s been so spectacular we couldn’t have made it up. It couldn’t have been any better. 16 points from 36 games is bad but the real story is the slow suffocation of that club from the inside. It could be argued that they’ve faced far less than we have under Ashley, and you our clubs loyal fan base have prevented the implosion seen at Villa. That club has been dying for years. In fact, 24.05.09 was probably as good as it got for them. I wrote a lengthy recount of that day here and podcasted on the subject of the loathing me and many of you feel for that club. I hope they never play in the Premier League again. It shouldn’t be like this though. I wish it wasn’t. I hate seeing football clubs integral to their communities torn apart by foreign businessmen interested in making a few quid. I’ll toast their demise all day long on the pitch, but off it, I hope they get their club back. No football fan should have to endure what they enduring.
So this weekend isn’t about revenge or banners. Whatever division United are in next season we’ll dwarf them in every aspect. Our average attendance when we were relegated was 5,000 more than Villa’s that same season they were securing a 6th place Premier League finish and were all loved up with the owner they now despise. We are a bigger, better, club than them and that is what upset them most. I’ve always felt their behaviour that day was their chance to revel in the demise of a far greater club than their own. Yet when things have got tough all but a hard core of Villa fans have deserted their club, and it happened long before this season. I hope the Villa fans ‘laughing’ that day release what fools they made of themselves and their fan base. To be honest the assorted set of idiots I encountered that day probably don’t go anymore, or support Leicester.
So it’s just three points we’re after in front of a deserted Villa Park. I’ve been 6 times to Villa Park seeing 3 wins, 2 draws & 2 defeats. United’s record is good against Villa in general. It’s imperative it remains good. I write this on Wednesday. It’s possible that a week today both Norwich and Sunderland could be relegated by losing their games in hand. It’s also true that we’re a week away from United’s own relegation, should we lose and Sunderland or Norwich win this weekend. That’s how big this is. I just need it to be Saturday 15.00 – in the sunshine (again) at what is for my money the worst ground in the league. Norwich play before us. That is huge. A Manchester Utd win by 14.50 on Saturday will be fantastic and really give us a great chance to move 5 points clear of the East Anglian side. Sunderland play at the same time as us. I hope Villa Park has a decent 4G connection, as phones will be being relentlessly checked.
I was one of the few (not that it matters) that was still convinced we’d survive walking out of Carrow Road. Two reasons came to mind. The first was we were terrible, yet Norwich relied on a disgraceful 93rd minute winner that never should have won to beat us. The second was Sunderland failed to beat a disastrous West Brom side at home that day. Failed to score. If Allardyce gets 5 minutes this week away from talking about Benitez and NUFC, then he should probably prepare his side to take a few risks this weekend against Chelsea. They faced the worst Arsenal side I’ve ever seen a couple of weeks ago and still played for the point first and foremost. In their last 5 games Sunderland have scored two goals from open play – both in the latter stages against a stretched Norwich. They’ve therefore failed to score in open play in 4 of their last five.
I find it very hard to believe that Sunderland will turn into a side that can score goals easily and readily. They need wins at this stage of the season, as do Norwich. Norwich have won 2 of their last 16 games (both in consecutive weeks against West Brom and us) and Sunderland have also won 2 of their last 16 games. By the same logic, United have won two in 11 – though our two wins have come in the last four games – not weeks and months ago. I suppose my point is that Sunderland fans and Norwich fans are both putting a lot on winning their last two games of the season when both play the same two sides, Watford and Everton. We can scupper even that by winning our next two games, provided everything goes to plan this weekend.
It won’t be easy. Our away form is dreadful. Three strong performances at home should help the problem, but not fix it. We’re relying on getting a first away win of 2016 and only our third in 19 games. There’s no better place to fix this than an Aston Villa side who have won two, drawn four and lost twelve of their 18 home games. Expect the same team to play who ground it out against Palace. We need big performances. Sissoko has been quiet the last two games. Someone needs to step up and not leave everything to Townsend. I feel like I should have this phrase permanently copied to my PC but Winjaldum owes us a performance. The lads at the back need to keep on doing what they’ve been doing. Janmaat could come back for an injured Anita, but I’ve heard nothing on this (strangely) in the news.
Villa have showed painstaking signs of life. They’re still rubbish, but a bit less so. They’ve notched 4 in their last two games. I don’t think United can concede two and win the game, so we need to prevent them from scoring. Villa’s problem is they’ve conceded seven in the last two games and 72 overall. We’re going to need to create a lot more chances away from home than we have done all season to do this. I know Rafa won’t let us down. I think Sissoko is key. He needs to be given the type of role he was against Man City. Liverpool and Palace have gone out of their way to man mark him and close him out of the game, I don’t think Villa have the resources do that. Villa Park is hosting another major fan protest this weekend. I hope it’s an awful environment for that team to play in. I hope justice is done and Chelsea and Manchester United turn up in their fixtures. I hope we win.
I’m dreaming of 17.00 this Saturday four and five points clear of those below, looking forward to a week today knowing that by 22.00 on the 11th we could be safe and save an agonising 90 at SJP against Spurs. Whatever happens, Rafa will be setting this side up to win this game and let the others do what they’re going to do. No ‘dashing off the pitch to see how Newcastle have got on’ as Defoe and Allardyce have said this week. There’ll be 3k mags this weekend, and we could have taken 15k, maybe more. I have no doubt the support will mirror the away ends at Norwich and Liverpool. Everyone will do their bit on and off the pitch. We have the momentum, but more importantly the performances. This side knows how to win and close out games. We get better as games go on. Darlow does less and less as games progress. It’s the first time in my life watching United this has been the case. If we score first, I am convinced we’ll win.
I’m convinced we’ll win anyway. Come on United.
Alex Hurst follow @tfalex1892