Afternoon all. Anyone think there's a chance of an upset in this one? Even the slimmest of stick-thin chances? A teeny-tiny nubbin of a chance, scurrying about the place like a frightened field mouse? No, me neither.
Here are today's teams:
Man Utd: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Young, Rooney, Welbeck. Subs: Amos, Jones, Berbatov, Giggs, Hernandez, Nani, Cleverley.
Aston Villa: Given, Hutton, Collins, Baker, Lichaj, Bannan,
Ireland, Clark, Gardner, Weimann, Agbonlahor. Subs: Guzan, N'Zogbia, Delfouneso, Heskey, Cuellar, Johnson, Carruthers.
Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)
So Paul Scholes is back in the United starting XI after missing the midweek defeat to Wigan, and Rafael and Danny Welbeck are also recalled. For Villa, Ciaran Clark and Gary Gardner come into the side as Alex McLeish looks to get as many alliterative players into his team as possible.
For all the stick Alex McLeish has taken this season (and as someone who watched his team's embarassing set-up in the defeat at Tottenham earlier in the season, I've been among those handing it out) you've got to admire his willingness to give youth a chance. I make it seven players in the starting XI today that have come through the Villa youth ranks.
Pre-match email dept.
"I'm going to suggest that there's the chance of an upset," writes Gary Naylor. "Pundits and fans have said that this is the most ordinary United team for 20 years or so and, just maybe, Wigan were the little boy who pointed out that the Emperor had no clothes to other clubs. Once teams believe they can win, they can win - though, of course, mere belief isn't enough. 1-1 would be my call."
"Can Ray Wilkins please stop calling the Premier League a product," writes John. "We are talking about football not a set of towels. It makes my blood boil!" I'm afraid he's just being honest. That's exactly what it is these days.
"I really hope we get to see some Samir Carruthers today," writes Harry Tuttle. "Further proof - if any more were needed - that the Premier League (and English football in general) is just God playing Champ Manager 93/94 to the point where the software has to generate ever more unlikely combinations." Ah, Champ Manager. I'll never forget Wim Saabe orchestrating my Lierse midfield on the way to those three Champions League titles. Should've won more caps.
Pre-match music dept. Sounds like LMAO being pumped out over the Old Trafford Tannoy. Young people today, eh? Yesterday at West Ham we had a bit of this pre-kick-off. Actually best pre-match music since an indie disco at the Valley back in October.
Click-clack, click-clack … the players emerge from the tunnel.
Before the match there's a minute's silence for Piermario Morosini, the Livorno player who died at the game in Pescara yesterday … and it's observed in utter quiet.
PEEP! Off we go then. Ireland and Agbonlahor kick things off.
27 sec: Ireland puts Weimann clean through! What a chance for the in-form youngster, but he doesn't quite get hold of his shot and it's an easy grab for De Gea.
2 min: Agbonlahor has started up front for the visitors, with Weimann out wide on the left.
3 min: Rooney and Carrick exchange passes in midfield and gloriously carve through Villa. Rooney's shot is blocked inadvertently by Young and Welbeck can't capitalise on the rebound.
5 min: Pass, pass, pass from United.
6 min: PENALTY! Ashley Young's tumble to the deck needs a BOING! sound effect, but there was contact as he went down.
GOAL! Manchester Utd 1-0 Aston Villa (Rooney 7pen) Rooney tucks it home.
8 min: Replays just make that Young tumble worse and worse. Maybe it's a trip but there's no way a player's face should hit the ground first at that speed. Would be great, one day, to see a referee award a penalty AND book a player for simulation.
9 min: Carrick booked for a lunge on, I think, Gardner. The free-kick comes to nothing.
10 min: "I know where John's coming from in his pre-match email but I think it's healthy to refer to the Premier League as a product," writes Steven Hughes. "When Paul McCartney first met Frank Zappa, McCartney eventually asked Zappa why he kept calling his music 'product'. Zappa said that when dealing with record company people, it shows them that I know exactly on what level we're really speaking. When the football authorities try the soft soap the fans - with talk of 'romance of the game' and so on, for their own purposes - it's good to remind yourself that the 'game' is no longer a game. Follow the money, as Deep Throat said."
11 min: Fine tackle from Collins to deny Scholes after a lovely little reverse pass from Young. Valencia causing all sorts of problems on the other wing too.
12 min: "Ashley Young has now 'won' eight penalties since the start of 2009-10 in the PL, twice as many as any other player," notes our Football Features editor Mike Adamson on Twitter.
13 min: A few boos audible from the away end as Young picks up the ball. Throughly deserved too. "Yet again we have been insulted by an Ashley Young dive.," writes JR in Illinois. "If they can't get this garbage under control there's a real chance that people will stop watching. It's too early in the morning to be this angry."
15 min: Ireland looks to poke a ball through to Agbonlahor, but Evans telescopes out a leg to cut it out.
17 min: Gorgeous cross from Rooney finds Welbeck ghosting in at the back post, but he heads only against his Villa marker when he might have done a little better.
18 min: Rooney drills a shot at goal and Given makes a smart save. Corner …
19 min: … taken short to Rafael, who neatly picks out the lady in the third row just behind the goal.
20 min: "Since a penalty is awarded for a foul committed in the penalty area, then surely to receive a penalty a player has to be fouled," begins Andrew Mullinder. "When did 'contact' constitute a foul in and of itself? Young was touched, and dived. But commentators and journalists justified it by saying there was 'contact'. There was, but so? Are there now separate 'penalty rules' that bear no relation to the normal rules of fouls? A cynic might say that it's something to do with playing at Old Trafford, but since I'm not a cynic I shall leave that unsaid."
21 min: Bannan whips in a free-kick, Clark flicks on, the ball drifts a yard wide of De Gea's goal.
22 min: Welbeck spins away from Collins then rather selfishly goes for goal, with Carrick screaming for a pull-back. From the resultant corner, Rooney nods wide.
24 min: Valencia picks out Welbeck at the back post. Collins dives in to make a block. United are tearing into Villa with the relish that a hungover man tucks into his fry up. Villa barely hanging on.
26 min: Weimann outmuscles Rafael down by the touchline. His pass finds Ireland, who looks to curl one into the far post, but it drifts wide.
27 min: "I'd love to see some of these players mixing it up on Hackney Marshes on a Sunday morning," writes Paul Jaines. "I'd pay a lot of money to see an 18-stone hungover defender called 'The Bison' giving Young a reducer three minutes into the game." That's a great nickname. Can everyone please start calling me the Bison? Thanks. Corner to United …
28 min: … chipped out to Scholes on the edge of the box, and absolutely creamed at goal by the veteran. It zips wide, but that was a glorious full-fat, double cream, fillet steak of a strike.
31 min: Scholes sand-wedges a pass onto Rooney's toe in the area. It's a masterclass at the moment. "Is this British slang?" wonders a confused Josh Reynolds. "Help an American out. What is a reducer?" Anyone care to give Josh a definition.
32 min: Valencia cracks in a cross, Welbeck volleys towards goal and somehow Given keeps it out. Stunning save.
34 min: Still United dominate, but with only one goal in it Villa have always got a chanzzzzzz …
36 min: Welbeck pulls the ball back to Valencia. Who toe-punts out for a throw in.
38 min: "Bison is pretty good," writes Emre Arslan, "but as far as defender nicknames go 'Ayıboğan' for Servet Çetin - meaning 'man who could choke a bear'- has to be the best."
41 min: THIS IS A LULL (but it won't hurt you).
GOAL! Manchester Utd 2-0 Aston Villa (Welbeck 43) Bizarre defending from Baker, stepping over Evra's low ball across the six-yard box, allows Welbeck to slide in and score at the far post. This is already over, isn't it?
Peep! Peep! Halsey ends the first half. United couldn't be more in charge if Villa were trussed up with an apple in their mouth.
A reducer is:
"A force of impact, not involving any sort of ball, delivered below the centre of gravity of a quick and energetic body by a slower and more physically dense body with the intention of informing the body being reduced that he is not getting away with an hour and a half of stepovers and back heels." – David Flynn.
"A euphemism for doing some violence early in a game to 'reduce' the impact of your opponent in the knowledge that you're likely to get away with it. See also: 'Let him know you're there' and 'Get stuck in early doors.'" – Niall Mullen.
"This" – Eddie Munro
And the real Bison: "This man is called "the Bison"; Super Dario Hubner, il Bomber di Brescia!" writes Jonny Mills. "Dario was known as 'The Goal Bison' well before he joined Brescia. He played a season with Baggio, but he had already become a living legend by then. Twenty a day and grappa after dinner; reportedly Milan didn't take up an option to buy him because he wouldn't guarantee 'healthy lifestyle options'..."
Peep! Right, here comes the second half.
46 min: Wonderful control from Welbeck, plucking the ball out of the air in almost Karate Kid fashion. His attempted pass to Rooney, though, was more Mr Miyagi.
48 min: Scholes goes into the book after catching Agbonlahor with a slightly high boot. Free-kick to Villa on halfway. In their position, centre-halves trundle up to the edge of the box, awaiting the into-the-mixer ball …
49 min: … but instead, with Agbonlahor off the pitch with injury, it's lumped forward with almost nobody in an attacking position. What's the point? Really, what is the point?
51 min: Ireland clatters into Young and picks up a booking. "That Welbeck Karate Kid analogy is totally off," writes Jesse Galdston. "As someone who grew up savoring the original, if anything Daniel-san and Mr Miyagi should be reversed. However, really, it's more that Welbeck's control was Mr. Miyagi and his pass was more Cobra-kai."
52 min: Bannan sweeps a zippy little ball into the box, but Gardner, whose had a poor game, can't make contact.
54 min: Bannan belts an effort at goal from 35 yards, but, like an obese kestrel, it's high and wide.
55 min: Villa have been on top since the break and the atmosphere at Old Trafford is flatter than day-old Dandelion and Burdock.
57 min: Evra and Clark clash heads and it's the Villa man who has come off worse. He might need a few stitches in his brow.
59 min: United finally get their foot on the ball. Clark is bandaged and back on the pitch.
60 min: Off goes Young, on comes Nani.
62 min: Am I alone in thinking Villa might benefit from a year or two out of the Premier League? Chance to rediscover themselves, get a bit of momentum? Seems to have done Newcastle no harm in the long run …
63 min: Clark has dropped down once again. Seems to be a bit concussed. Villa medical staff giving him every chance, but his match is over. On in his stead comes Emile Heskey.
65 min: Ball pops up and hits Baker on the arm. Old Trafford appeals. No penalty.
66 min: Heskey nods at goal, De Gea tips over. Villa corner. Cleared.
67 min: And out of nothing United pull Villa apart again like crispy duck. Evans out to Valencia, Valencia into Rooney, Rooney drags wide of the post.
69 min: Villa 'attack' but when Ireland looks up 40 yards out, there's only three players ahead of him. Still, though, Villa have upped their game. Corner …
70 min: … whipped in, and nodded wide by Baker.
72 min: "You're dead right, some clubs do benefit from a relegation," writes Steven Hughes. "Sometimes, it acts like a footballing enema. Villa look set just to exist in future, to not disappear; like a used cigarette butt that won't go around the U-bend no matter how many times you flush."
GOAL! Manchester Utd 3-0 Aston Villa (Rooney 73) Welbeck. Rooney. Valencia. Rooney. A deflection off Collins. 3-0.
74 min: And that's Rooney's final contribution. Berbatov replaces him. And Samir Carruthers comes on for Ireland.
76 min: Gardner forlornly scoops a 30-yard free kick wide of De Gea's goal.
77 min: Interesting bit of officiating. Given skids out of his area and touches the ball away with his hand. The linesman flags, but Welbeck has the ball so the advantage is played and the keeper escapes punishment.
79 min: The ball pings around in the area, Welbeck pokes at goal, again Collins deflects, but this time Given's face is in the way.
80 min: Valencia sends an exocet goalwards, Lichaj deflects and again Given saves.
81 min: "Don't you think a change in manager would help rather than relegation for Villa?" wonders David Bertram. "The current chap has won 15 of his last 70 Premier League games I'm told. As any other suffering Villa fan will tell you inspirational tactics such as Emile Heskey in the midfield No10 role and picking Alan Hutton have killed Villa, not being in the Premier League." Well, I think that would help, but the club just seems tired and directionless, full of players who are a year or two away from properly maturing. Obviously, if the club were relegated they'd want a new manager, but at least he could build a team designed at winning games against weaker sides rather than fire-fighting which is what any new incumbent would be doing in the Premier League.
84 min: This is petering out now, like a barbeque in the rain.
86 min: Carruthers has looked useful since his introduction. He wins a corner, from which Heskey jumps into the back of Baker, who had fouled his marker.
88 min: "The Premier League could certainly use a break from Aston Villazzzzz......" notes Niall Mullen.
90 min: Evans heads over the bar from Nani's corner.
90+2 min: Bannan earns a booking for pointless chopping down Carrick.
90+3 min: And Nani joins him in the book with a mini-rugby tackle on Collins.
GOAL!! Manchester United 4-0 Aston Villa (Nani 90+3) Evans cuts open Villa with a crisp first time pass. Nani tucks it past Given.
PEEP! PEEEP!! PEEEEEP!!! Mark Halsey puts Villa out of their misery.
Right, that's it from me. United re-establish their five-point lead in solid fashion. Villa are in need of some reinvention. Thanks for your company and emails. Why not join Simon Burnton for Chelsea v Tottenham now?