Manchester United need a plan to deal with the aerial threat of Aston Villa's Rudy Gestede - Danny Higginbotham column

COLUMN: United need to protect Daley Blind from aerial bombardment

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The Independent Football

It’s not often we could have said such a thing in years gone by, but there is likely to be a clear weakness for Aston Villa to exploit against Manchester United on Friday night.

It is on the left side of central defence, where there is a strong possibility that, with Marcos Rojo short of match fitness, Daley Blind will be positioned. With Luke Shaw likely to be at left-back, that means the left-hand side of United’s defence will be more diminutive than the right, where Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling are likely to be stationed.

Villa manager Tim Sherwood will be looking at that and thinking: ‘I want to get Rudy Gestede to attack Blind.’ He will be telling him to hook himself up to Blind, use his five-inch height advantage to win the aerial challenges, creating the opportunities for knock-downs for those around him, maybe Gabby Agbonlahor or Scott Sinclair.

To counteract this threat, United need to get their main defensive midfielder – Michael Carrick or Bastian Schweinsteiger – to sit on the toes of Gestede, as we like to say, every time there is a deep free-kick or a goal-kick which could be lumped up to Gestede.

If the United midfielder succeeds, Gestede’s chance of getting the ball in behind the United back four will be difficult. Tactically, it might sound intricate but it’s straightforward: the midfielder sitting on Gestede enables the back four behind him to stay together in a narrow four, so any flick-ons will be met by one of them.

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Rudy Gestede celebrates his winner at Bournemouth

If the United midfielder does not succeed, there is potential for the knock on and for Villa’s forwards to run on to it, exploiting the gaps between Shaw, Smalling and Darmian. United’s back four must play narrow. That means the only space for players to run in to after the flick-on is in the wide areas. Then all United have to worry about is Villa’s potential to get crosses in. That’s far less of a concern.

The bigger picture, beyond tonight, is United’s need to buy a commanding centre-half before the window closes. Smalling is getting better and better as a ball-playing centre-half but he needs a ball-winner who suits him as a partner.

United have always had one of each in defence: the likes of Steve Bruce, Jaap Stam and Nemanja Vidic who go and win the challenges and the likes of Ronny Johnsen, Gary Pallister and Rio Ferdinand with the ability on the ball to cover and bring the ball out. That’s for another day. At Villa Park, I suspect it will all be about Gestede, and how to deal with him.

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