Premier League | Villa Park | Sun 15 Dec | 1:30pm
The perfect chance for David Moyes and Manchester United to turn a corner.
A couple of years ago, a widely held theory was formed, suggesting that Inter's decline from the 2010/11 season onwards was the cause of Jose Mourinho's departure from the club in the summer of 2010, rather than a result of it.
The suggestion was that the wily Portuguese tactician could foresee the problems his ageing squad would face in the months ahead, and jumped ship for Madrid with perfect timing.
With a healthy dollop of hindsight, could the same be said of Sir Alex Ferguson's departure from Manchester United and the club's current malaise?
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Fulham 2-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- So'ton 2-3 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 0-0 S'land (Prem)
- WBS 2-2 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 1-0 Shakhtar (CL)
- Man Utd 0-1 N'castle (Prem)
- Man Utd 0-1 Everton (Prem)
- Spurs 2-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Leverkusen 0-5 Man Utd (CL)
United's problems appeared to be mounting over recent years, despite the club winning the league at a canter last season. There have long been calls for more investment in the playing staff, with the midfield cited as an area in need of strengthening since Paul Scholes retired first time round. This current slump isn't entirely Moyes' doing, but the blame was always likely to be laid at his door, particularly with Everton enjoying something of a purple patch under the Scot's successor at Goodison Park, Roberto Martinez.
Regardless, he's the man being paid to sort the mess out, and a game away to an Aston Villa side who generally perform better on the road, and who played even worse than United last weekend, could be the perfect tonic. Villa travelled to Fulham on a run of five league games unbeaten, yet their limp showing at Craven Cottage was more befitting of a side bereft of confidence and on a long losing streak.
Granted, they found themselves up against an on-song Dimitar Berbatov, a two-goal deficit within 20 minutes and one or two iffy decisions from referee Mike Dean, but Paul Lambert will still surely be raging that his team barely forged an opening against a team who had actually previously lost six on the bounce.
The fact a 3-0 victory would be enough to see his side leapfrog United in the league should provide enough motivation this time around, but even in their current state, there’s no chance the champions would slump to that. Right…?
Villa will again be without defender Ron Vlaar, whose absence was particularly noticeable at Fulham. Libor Kozak (ankle), Antonio Luna (groin), Joe Bennett (back) and Charles N'Zogbia (calf) join the Dutchman on the sidelines. Fabian Delph will be sat on the naughty step for picking up five yellow cards and a one-game ban.
For the visitors, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling are all carrying knocks, but should return having been left out of Tuesday's Champions League win over Shakhtar. Marouane Fellaini is a doubt with a back injury, while Shinji Kagawa could again miss out through 'illness'. Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher are longer-term absentees, but Wayne Rooney will return from suspension.
Key battle: Chris Herd vs Wayne Rooney
Villa’s Australian utility man made his first appearance since New Year’s Day in the defeat at Fulham, filling in at centre-back alongside Ciaran Clark. With Vlaar once again likely to be missing and Nathan Baker required at left-back, Herd is set to take his place in the heart of Villa’s back-line for the second game running.
The 24-year-old, nominally a midfielder, could have been forgiven for being a little rusty at Fulham, but he performed relatively well, making 4 successful tackles and 14 clearances, winning 6 of his 10 aerial duels. Still, he’ll need to perform to a higher standard on Sunday when in-form Rooney will likely be his direct opponent.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Man Utd 3-0 Villa (Prem, Apr 13)
- Villa 2-3 Man Utd (Prem, Nov 12)
- Man Utd 4-0 Villa (Prem, Apr 12)
- Villa 0-1 Man Utd (Prem, Dec 11)
- Man Utd 3-1 Villa (Prem, Feb 11)
"It is going to be very hard. He has come to a big club and you aren't going to turn things around right away. It's going to take time. He's got a big job on his hands. No one can come into any job, and especially one as big as this, and expect it to be correct right away."
You may think these were words of encouragement for Moyes from fellow Scotsman Paul Lambert, but in fact it's the other way round. This was Moyes' defence of Lambert after his Everton side comfortably won the last Villa Park meeting between the two coaches last August. Perhaps Lambert will return the favour on Sunday...
TIPS & TRENDS
Sponsored by BetButler.co.uk
Facts and figures
- Wayne Rooney has scored eight goals in his last 10 Premier League games against Villa, but they have all come in braces.
- Aston Villa are the only team in the league this season not to have dropped any points from a match in which they have been leading.
- If Man United lose this match it would be just the fourth time in the Premier League where have lost three in a row (Nov 1996, May 2001 and Dec 2001).
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
A timely boost for Moyes - Manchester United to win 2-0.