A question mark continues to sit at the top of Manchester United’s team-sheet as Louis van Gaal’s side prepare for their second Premier League fixture at Aston Villa on Friday.
With David de Gea’s mooted move to Real Madrid locked in an impasse over the Spanish club’s refusal to meet United’s valuation for the player or include centre-back Sergio Ramos as part of the deal, British media reports suggest that United now expect the Spaniard to remain at the club this season.
De Gea, 24, sat in the stands during United’s 1-0 win at home to Tottenham Hotspur last weekend after van Gaal said the link to Madrid had affected his “focus”.
Apart from some wayward passes, De Gea’s deputy Sergio Romero performed well enough against Spurs and with Victor Valdes and Anders Lindegaard having been frozen out, if De Gea is not deemed to be in the right frame of mind to play, the Argentina international will continue between the posts at Villa Park.
While United’s fans will be heartened by the prospect of De Gea staying, after voting him their Player of the Year last season, the club’s former goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel has been critical of the way the situation has been handled.
“If the player is not happy, his agent, himself and the club that want him should have sorted this a long time ago,” the Dane told talkSPORT radio this week. “It’s sad that it’s dragged into the season.”
Putting the goalkeeper issue aside, United have traditionally had little to fear from visits to Villa Park, where they have not lost in the league in 20 years.
However, with United having had to wait until November 22 last season before recording their first away win, they will hope that it does not take quite so long to pick up points on the road this term.
Van Gaal will expect to see signs of greater attacking cohesion than in the narrow win over Tottenham, when United prevailed courtesy of an own goal and mustered just a single shot on target.
The club’s travelling fans, meanwhile, will be eager for another sight of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who received a thunderous reception when he made his competitive debut as a second-half substitute against Spurs.
– ‘Under the lights’ –
The Germany midfielder struggled with a calf problem on the pre-season tour of the United States, but he told club television channel MUTV: “Now I feel much better and also the game was very important to play 30 minutes.
“The training sessions are very important for me, too. I’m getting better and I hope I will be 100 percent fit in the next week.”
Villa began the campaign with a 1-0 win at promoted Bournemouth and despite narrowly avoiding relegation last season, a flood of new signings has raised expectations for manager Tim Sherwood’s first full campaign.
Rudy Gestede, the Benin international striker signed from Blackburn Rovers for £6 million ($9.3 million, 8.5 million euros), came off the bench to head in the winner at Bournemouth and he will hope to get a run at United’s new-look centre-back pairing of Chris Smalling and Daley Blind.
While the towering Gestede is pushing for a starting berth, attacking midfielders Jack Grealish and Carles Gil are both doubtful due to hamstring and ankle injuries respectively.
Looking ahead to the game, Villa centre-back Ciaran Clark told the club website: “It’s Man United. It’s the first home game of the season.
“We’re back at Villa Park. It’s a sell-out under the lights. I’m not sure it can get much better than that.”
Friday night matches will become a regular fixture from next season onwards, but this game has only been advanced due to a march by far-right protest group the English Defence League in the area on Saturday.
With United hosting Belgian team Club Brugge in the first leg of their Champions League qualifying play-off on Tuesday, the game could not be rescheduled for Sunday. – Agence France-Presse