De Gea left out again as Man Utd get that Friday feeling
Policing concerns over the EDL and Champions League fixture mean United and Villa play first Friday match since 2003
There's something of a first tonight for the Premier League when Aston Villa host Manchester United at Villa Park. Friday night football might be a common practice in Germany, France and Spain but England's top flight has never embraced the concept, preferring to play its fixtures any day other than the end of the working week.
The break with the tradition hasn't been brought about by a broadcaster, rather by police concerns ahead of a march by English Defence League through Walsall city centre on Saturday afternoon. That's when the match was originally scheduled but police feared the two elements could be a catalyst for chaos and conveyed those anxieties to the Premier League.
In normal circumstances the match would have been shunted to Sunday but with United playing Brugge in the Champions League play-off on Tuesday that was a no-no.
So Friday it is, the first such fixture since 2003 (exclusing bank holidays), and one which gives United the opportunity to follow up last weekend's win over Tottenham with another three points, piling the pressure on rivals Chelsea and Arsenal, neither of whom won their opening fixture.
Asked about their early advantage over the two London clubs, United boss Louis van Gaal refused to get carried away. "The season takes a long time," he explained. "It is also possible for Arsenal and Chelsea to recover the points. We shall also lose this season."
United have found Villa Park a happy hunting ground in recent years and their last league defeat there was in 1995. Nonetheless their form on the road last season was dreadful (they didn't win an away game until late November and finished with only six victories away from Old Trafford) and Van Gaal acknowledged it needs drastic improvement. "I think that is the key for success this season," he admitted. "At home, we were one of the best, third in the league I think, but I want to create a fortress from Old Trafford and we did that. But away from home we can improve, but last season it was not good."
Something else that is "not good" is the mental state of goalkeeper David de Gea, and for that reason he has once again been sidelined. With Real Madrid still courting the Spanish goalkeeper, van Gaal has omitted the goalkeeper from the squad for the second week running. He refused to elaborate on the transfer saga but The Guardian reports that the Dutchman claimed De Gea said "no" when asked if he wanted to play for United.
He did, however, insist that Adnan Januzaj would not be leaving the club, saying he "is still not for sale", and the manager also responded to claims made earlier in the week by Hristo Stoichkov, reported by the BBC, that he was "destroying" the Old Trafford club.
The pair crossed paths at Barcelona in the late 1990s and the experience prompted Stoichkov – who earlier this year branded the Dutchman "scum" - to warn United transfer target Pedro to shun the Red Devils. Asked about the outburst, Van Gaal retorted: "I always consider who is saying these things and then I know why. It is not bothering me. He is one of the players I sent away [from Barcelona] and that is why he is doing that."