Struggling Man Utd seek form against high-flying Villa

 
Christian Eriksen and manager Erik ten Hag of Manchester United during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester United at London Stadium on December 23, 2023 in London, England.

Manchester United and visiting Aston Villa both will be looking to rebound from weekend setbacks when they meet on Boxing Day at Old Trafford.

United (9-8-1, 28 points) were forced to accept a familiar fate on Saturday, losing 2-0 at West Ham United in a game in which they had the majority of the possession and -- in manager Erik ten Hag's view -- the chances.

A victory would've taken Man U up to sixth in the table and within three points of crosstown rival Manchester City. Instead, late goals from Jarrod Bowen and Mohammed Kudus ensured the Hammers of all three points, and United of a third defeat in the five league games in which they've had at least 65 percent possession.

"I think we controlled the game and didn't give West Ham United anything, and we created three good chances and we didn't take them," ten Hag said. "And then one moment of switching off and we are down, we are losing the game, and I think that is how I see the performance."

Eliminated from this year's UEFA Champions League in the group stage, the Red Devils' chances of returning next year are quickly fading, now separated by eight points from the top four entering a game that marks the season's halfway point.

The end product remains the biggest issue: midfielder Scott McTominay leads Man U with five goals, and none of the forwards on the roster have more than three.

But the hosts could at least be a little closer to full strength Tuesday, with Diogo Dalot returning from suspension, and perhaps Raphael Varane and Anthony Martial recovered after illness forced them to miss the West Ham defeat.

Meanwhile, Villa (12-3-3, 39 points) could've entered Christmas leading the league table if they'd managed to take care of lowly Sheffield United at home on Saturday.

Instead, manager Unai Emery's side largely was kept in check for the first 75 minutes, then actually went behind in the 87th before Nicolo Zaniolo rescued the Villains by heading home Douglas Luiz's lovely cross in the seventh minute of second-half stoppage time.

And while it wasn't the desired result, Zaniolo insisted it wouldn't disrupt the confidence of a side unbeaten in its last seven in the league.

"I scored, but I'd prefer three points than one point, but OK, we go again," Zaniolo said. "We have another match and we keep going because we are a great team and we are a strong team. And today, one point, but it's not the worst."

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