Last season’s visit of Aston Villa was treated as a mere formality, after all the midlanders hadn’t won at Old Trafford in over a quarter century.
Villa’s 1-0 victory was as big a shock as it was long overdue and was yet another result we can look back on as costing United the title last season. One thing that may have affected the United team last season was a degree of complacency which was also evident at Villa Park a few months ago.
It seems The Reds are so used to winning against Villa that we’ve forgotten you have to put in the effort at times a trait which very nearly cost us the away fixture in November.
The visit of Gerard Houllier’s men couldn’t come at a better time for United though, with both Rio Ferdinand and Rafael Da Silva set to return following injuries not to mention Edwin Van Der Sar and Patrice Evra who also missed the trip to Southampton.
Michael Carrick still remains a doubt but other than that only long-term absentees Antonio Valencia, Owen Hargreaves plus the recently returned from Aldi Cup duties Ji-Sung Park will be missing from United’s squad.
Villa on the other hand will be without Nathan Baker- I’d never heard of him either- who’s suspended for being naughty.
With Arsenal and the transfer deadline desperados Chelsea both playing, Sir Alex will expect nothing less than a win as not least of all, of the three fixtures it’s arguably United who have the easiest- Everton visit The Emirates while Sunderland entertain Ancelotti’s men.
No matter what goes on with the chasing pack a win will at the very least maintain United’s five point lead at the top of the EPL and bring that elusive 19th title that little bit closer- which would no doubt mark a great return for ‘King’ Kenny at Anfield -when he left we were 11 behind and his first season back we could be ahead- potentially.
The league is far from won yet though and it’s games such as these which have been tripping up many of our opponents- not to mention us away from home, so the word ‘complacency’ should not come into the equation- neither hopefully should the words ‘last-minute’ ‘hairdryer’ or ‘fortunate.’ United’s home form has been breathtaking- 11 wins and one draw so far this season and you would fancy us to take all three points.
If Gerard Houllier can find time in his busy- ‘upsetting every EPL manager their is’ -schedule to work out a way to get anything from the game, then he’s going to need to get the best out of a team that’s lost seven on their travels this season and won only once against United in 30 games.
Ones to Watch/Head to Head
Darren Bent- one of the most prolific scorers in the Premier League has often been underrated by many -especially Fabio Capello- and a lot of people were shocked Villa were willing to pay so much – anything from £18-24 million depending on who you believe. The fact is though, scoring goals is the toughest challenge for any Premier League team particularly Villa who’ve managed just 11 in 12 away games this season. Bent got off to a great start by scoring the winner on his debut against City and is always a threat no matter who the opposition. If you were to want one man to be tasked with keeping him quiet then either Ferdinand or Vidic would be top of that list and whoever is charged with handling him, will have a busy night- but one you’d expect to be successful.
Ashley Young- After a bit of last-minute deadline day rumours that the former Watford man was Anfield bound- Young will be relieved he’s avoided that nightmare and can concentrate on living in a decent City. Young’s a tricky fast paced winger who may lack a bit of meat on his bones but makes up for it with his natural skill and balance.
Right footed Young is capable of playing either as a winger or just off the striker- and whether it’s Evra, Rio, Vidic or even Da Silva if he moves over to the left who has to deal with him, they’ll need to make sure they don’t allow him any real space. Young’s a good player and there were even rumours that he was once a United target but for me he’s not quite good enough to play at old Trafford regularly.
Brad Freidel. Do I really need to explain why I’ve picked out the former Liverpool stopper as ‘one to watch’? It’s as if the ghost of Lev Yashin- ask your dad- comes down and inhabits the American’s body for 90 minutes every time he plays against United. First at Blackburn- remember how frustrating he could be particularly at Ewood- now for Villa, Freidel just cannot help but produce stunning save after stunning save when he sees a red shirt coming towards him.
Friedel will need to have the best game of his entire life if he’s to stop an in-form Chicharito or Berbatov but I’m going to stick my neck out and say Wayne Rooney will prove the breaker of the seemingly invincible Hell Boy look-a-like with a long overdue Old Trafford goal.
A mdweek match can sometimes generate a special atmosphere and after some rather disappointing noise levels at Old Trafford of late, I’m hoping the crowd can help send the Midlanders packing back down the M6 after a United victory. I’m going for a close United win, with Wazza on the scoresheet.