Preview: Manchester United vs. Aston Villa 

Four days on from putting the Red Devils to the sword in the Premier League, Aston Villa will renew hostilities with Manchester United at Old Trafford for Thursday’s EFL Cup third-round match.

Unai Emery kicked off his Villa Park reign with a 3-1 win over Erik ten Hag’s side at the weekend, and the Spaniard knows a thing or two about progressing in knockout competitions.

Victories over Manchester United came Unai Emery’s way during his time in charge of Arsenal and Villarreal, and the Spaniard demonstrated his ongoing penchant for getting one over the Red Devils, taking the reins for the first time in the West Midlands with a resounding 3-1 win.

Leon Bailey, Lucas Digne and Jacob Ramsey – the latter going from zero to hero after his own goal – all made the net ripple in front of a party atmosphere at Villa Park, as Man United saw their nine-game unbeaten run in all competitions come to a bitter end.

Further insult was added for the 20-time English champions less than 24 hours later, as they were drawn against Barcelona in the knockout round playoffs of the Europa League, but Ten Hag’s side cannot cast one eye on their continental endeavours while revenge is on the menu against Aston Villa.

Five-time winners of the EFL Cup – most recently in the 2016-17 season under Jose Mourinho – Man United have since reached the semi-finals twice and been eliminated from the third round twice, falling at this stage to another claret side in West Ham United last term.

Returning to Old Trafford should bring with it a greater sense of defensive resilience for the Red Devils, who have kept an impressive five clean sheets on the bounce at home, as well as winning each of their last three in front of their own fans in all tournaments.

On the other hand, Man United have lost each of their last three EFL Cup games at the Theatre of Dreams, and there is no reason for Villa fans to believe that lightning cannot strike twice after Sunday’s remarkable performance.

Emery, the serial Europa League winner who also made it as far as the Champions League semi-finals with Villarreal, has highlighted his ambitions to win silverware with Aston Villa, so no shreds of complacency should come into play for the Lions at Old Trafford.

The West Midlands outfit already have five EFL Cups in their trophy cabinet, the most recent of which came in the 1995-96 season, and they reached the final of the 2020 edition before losing to Manchester City but were knocked out in round three by Chelsea last season.

Aston Villa have already seen off Bolton Wanderers 4-1 to progress to the third round, and next on Emery’s to-do list is ending a five-game winless run away from home for Aston Villa, who have failed to score in three of their last four away encounters.

Man United and Aston Villa have been familiar foes in the EFL Cup down the years – meeting four times in the competition, including in the 1994 and 2010 finals – and the Lions have won three of their four clashes with the Red Devils in the competition, including both of their third-round meetings.

Manchester United form (all competitions):
Aston Villa EFL Cup form:
Aston Villa form (all competitions):

We say: Manchester United 1-1 Aston Villa (Man United win on penalties)
While Villa can certainly take huge confidence from Sunday’s result, Man United’s stellar defensive streak at home coupled with the visitors’ shortcomings on the road should make this a much more competitive affair.

With changes expected on both ends, we would not be surprised to see a score draw come the end of the 90 minutes, and Villa could very well suffer a second successive penalty-shootout exit in the EFL Cup as Ten Hag’s side advance to round four.

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