Manchester United-Aston Villa Preview

Manchester United look to make it four wins on the trot and stay in the hunt for a top-three finish Thursday at Villa Park, where they face a relegation-threatened Aston Villa side desperate for a result.

United (15-10-8) are starting to find some breathing room in the table, entering this match three points clear of Wolverhampton for fifth while playing their match in hand with this contest. Fifth may still be good enough for Champions League play next term as eternal rivals Manchester City could learn whether their appeal of UEFA's two-year ban on European play will be upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport as early as Monday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team, though, are taking care of what they can do to get there themselves. Manchester United tore through Bournemouth 5-2 on Saturday at Old Trafford, shaking off an early deficit as teen starlet Mason Greenwood had a brace on either side of halftime and Bruno Fernandes continued to be unplayable against with a goal and two assists.

"There are not many that haven't played in the last two weeks," Solskjaer said at his Wednesday press conference, aware that winning out would guarantee a top-four finish and Champions League play. "They all know they're fit and available, that they're valued. It's not an issue. There are so many things to play for. Trophies - the FA Cup, the Europa League - but also the top four in the league. The group is very tight knit and they all know they've got a part to play."

The 18-year-old Greenwood has come on of late with three goals in his last two matches and has 15 in all competitions - good for third behind 20-goal scorers Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. Fernandes continues to be the best January signing in the Premier League, with the Portugal international racking up four goals and two assists in the four matches of Project Restart.

United are unbeaten in their last 15 in all competitions (11-4-0) and are seeking their first five-match winning streak since reeling off eight straight victories from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019. They are also unbeaten in their last four league contests (2-2-0) outside Old Trafford.

Centre back Victor Lindelof is a doubt for this contest with a back injury that forced him off at halftime, with Solskjaer likely to choose between Eric Bailly and one-time Villa loanee Axel Tuanzebe to partner with Harry Maguire.

If keeper David De Gea starts as expected, he will move into second on the all-time United list with 399 appearances, passing Peter Schmeichel and trailing only Alex Stepney.

"He's had some fantastic seasons here now and next year is his 10th," Solskjaer said. "I think he's proven [former goalkeeping coach] Eric Steele right, that we believed in him. He had a little bit of a tough ride early on, with the physicality of football in England, but, for me, he has been the best goalkeeper in the world over the last nine or 10 years."

Villa (7-6-20) are at the top of the drop with five matches remaining, edging Bournemouth on goal difference and five points behind Watford for safety. It is now essentially a four-team race for two spots among the Villans, Cherries, Watford, and West Ham United, and even a draw could serve Dean Smith's side well.

Points, though, have been in short supply for the Midlands club since resuming play as Villa have claimed just two points from five matches. They were resolute against champions Liverpool on Sunday but were still on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline at Anfield after conceding twice in the final 19 minutes.

"Our form in terms of performance levels have been much better but we haven't got the points tally that we feel we deserve," Smith lamented Wednesday to Villa's official website. "There are points that we have left out there and the only way we can put that right is in the last five games.

"We have to maintain our standards defensively and better them if possible. If we do that, we're in the game and we have to make sure that we turn on our quality in the final third."

Any chance of a shock scoreline will again fall upon Jack Grealish. The playmaker has had a hand in 13 of Villa's 36 goals in league play with seven scored and six assisted, but he is also the creative linchpin of the offence and has taken a beating this term. Grealish leads the Premier League with 152 fouls suffered - 49 more than second-place Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace.

Villa are also still dealing with injuries, with keeper Tom Heaton, defender Matt Targett and striker Wesley all sidelined. One bit of good news for Smith is centre back Tyrone Mings should be available for selection after shaking off a knock.

The teams played to a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in December as goals by Grealish and Mings bracketed an own goal by Heaton and one from Lindelof. It was a rare result for Villa, who are winless in their last 14 in all competitions versus United (0-4-10) since a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford in 2009.

They have not beat the Red Devils in the Midlands in 22 tries (0-7-15) since one-time United player Dwight Yorke scored from the spot in a 3-1 victory for Villa in 1995.

Updated July 8, 2020

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