Manchester United travel south on Saturday to Vila Park for a Premier League clash with Aston Villa. In this same fixture last season, the Reds trailed by two goals with 15 minutes remaining and it was Federico Macheda -- who has terrorized Villa in the past -- that pulled one back in the 81st minute with a 20-yard screamer. Just 4 minutes later, captain Nemanja Vidic stunned the home side with an equalising header. The thrilling match ended in a 2-2 draw. In the reverse fixture at Old Trafford, United won comfortably as Wayne Rooney's brace helped his side to a 3-1 defeat of the visitors. In their past 29 league attempts, the Villans have failed to defeat United.
Form Guide: United come into this match 2nd in the Premier League table, 5 points shy of rival Manchester City. In the UEFA Champions League, the Reds are level on points with Benfica in Group C after Matchday 5 but the Portuguese side top the group due to an away goal tiebreaker. If United are to advance to the knockout stages in Europe's grandest competition, a result is needed in the upcoming midweek versus FC Basel in Switzerland. This past midweek saw Sir Alex Ferguson's side sustain a shock 1-2 defeat by Championship side Crystal Palace in the Carling Cup quarter-final. United's last league match was a controversial 1-1 draw with Newcastle United last Saturday at Old Trafford.
Team News: Anderson, Tom Cleverley, and Michael Owen are all out due to long-term injury. In the match versus Palace on Wednesday, Dimitar Berbatov, Fabio, and Rafael were all substituted off after suffering knocks. The seriousness of their injuries is currently unknown. Danny Welbeck has been out lately due to a muscle strain sustained while on England duty in early November. The current status of the young striker is also unknown. TBB will have a full report of Fergie's pre-match conference later today when updates on injuries can be expected.
Form Guide: Villa currently sit 8th in the Premier League table after 13 matches -- just over a third of the way into the league season. The Claret and Blue started the season unbeaten through 7 matches until league leaders City handed Alex McLeish's side their first defeat. Last weekend saw Villa and Swansea City play to lackluster 0-0 draw in Wales in a match where playing football was on the minds of few. Just an hour prior to kick-off, the tragic death of Gary Speed had been confirmed and players from both sides were visibly overwhelmed.
Team News: Captain Stiliyan Petrov missed the match versus Swansea due to tightness in his hamstring. However, the Bulgarian is expected to be recovered in time for Saturday's match. Defender Eric Lichaj continues to be out due to a thigh injury.
United: As expected, Fergie nearly made a complete change to his side from the one that faced Newcastle last weekend for the past midweek Carling Cup tie. Therefore, many of his regular squad players were rested. Selection choices for Villa will certainly be made with an eye towards Wednesday's crucial Champions League match in Switzerland and to a lesser extent, next weekend's match versus Wolverhampton Wanderers. After that latter match, United will not have one for another nine days.
Against Villa, No.1 David De Gea is expected in goal but backup Anders Lindegaard could feature as he is in need of a game. In defense, first-choice center-back pairing Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are expected as is first-choice left-back Patrice Evra. At right-back, Phil Jones can be anticipated to start but Chris Smalling is a candidate as well. If United play with two central-midfielders, the duo of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs appears likely but the former could be rested for Wednesday's tie and Darren Fletcher could feature. Carrick has historically been favored for European ties and this season has proven no different -- the midfield maestro has started four of United's five European ties this season while only starting two of their thirteen domestic league matches. Former Villa attacker Ashley Young is expected to make his first appearance on the at Villa Park since leaving for United this past summer -- likely on the left flank. On the opposite right flank, Nani is probable to start. Up front, Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) is expected as the lead striker with Rooney playing withdrawn from him.
Villa: Projecting McLeish's starting XI is more straight-forward than United's. Shay Given is anticipated between the posts at Villa Park while Richard Dunne and James Collins are the expected center-back tandem. They will likely be flanked in defense by Stephen Warnock on the left and Alan Hutton on the right. Petrov is probable to selected in central midfield if fit and Chris Herd would be his partner. If Petrov is unable to start, Fabian Delph may deputise for the skipper, just as he did last weekend versus Swansea. On the flanks, Charles N'Zobia is expected on the right and the in-form Gabriel Agbonlahor on the left. Up top, Emile Heskey and Darren Bent will likely form a partnership.
* Can United be penetrative in attack? If so, can they convert their chances?: Wondering now if United's attack can be penetrative has becoming annoyingly repetitive. Despite the recent disappointing results, the Reds' attack has shown improvement in the past few weeks -- Carling Cup aside, which is arguably unimportant. The tie versus Newcastle saw United attempt 28 shots with an astonishing 11 blocked by the committed opponents. Carrick and Giggs provided have provided improved distribution from the middle as of late -- the former has dictated the pattern of matches from a deep-lying position while the latter has provided more incisive play higher up the pitch. If this continues and coincides with United's typical creativity from their wingers, can United convert their chances? The chances poured in against both Benfica and Newcastle, but the goals did not.
* Full-back track back: Whether it is N'Zogbia and Agbonlahor, or perhaps Marc Albrighton -- the latter was superb versus United last season in this fixture -- Villa will look to threaten United from the flanks. Herd and Petrov will likely sit relatively deep and stay compact with the center-backs, therefore, the Villan's incisiveness often comes from their wide attackers. United's full-back have been vulnerable this season at getting caught out and being vulnerable to side's that deploy tricky wide players. Evra and whoever the Reds' right-back is will need to wary of this threat posed by Villa and make sure they are well covered -- either in their own positioning or by a deep-lying central midfielder -- when they surge forward in support of the attack. It has been a bit alarming seeing Evra struggle in recent weeks with Gabriel Obertan and Nathan Dyer.
* The battle in the center of the park: As just mentioned, both Carrick and Giggs have played well in recent weeks as each has been vital with their distribution from the center of the park. Will Herd and Petrov sit deep and allow their counterparts time on the ball? If so, the United duo is capable of dissecting Villa. If the Villa duo move higher up the pitch to close down their counterparts, this may open up more space for Rooney to operate in between the lines -- this is arguably when United are most threatening. It will be interesting to see how McLeish deals with this possible dilemma on Saturday.
TV: ESPN (U.K), Fox Soccer (U.S) -- KO 5:30pm GMT, 12:30pm EST
Odds: Aston Villa 9/2, Draw 11/4, Manchester United 8/13
TBB Prediction: Aston Villa 1-2 Manchester United
SBN Aston Villa: 7500 To Holte