Manchester United v Aston Villa, Premier League, December 12, 2009
You have to hand it to Sir Alex Ferguson. To go to Wolfsburg, the German team with some of the best strikers in Europe, with just one recognised defender in attacking-minded Patrice Evra and win convincingly proves the tactical genius of the most successful manager in modern times.
The injury crisis that has gobbled up as many as 15 players has led to some impressive tweaking from Sir. Michael Carrick (6/1 to score) has been cast into a libero figure such as Franz Beckenbauer holding the back three together, Darren Fletcher (17/2 to score & Manchester United win) is turning into a very classy defender and Darron Gibson (6/1 to score & Manchester United win) is the new Paul Scholes.
Throw in the two-assist cameo from Gabriel Obertan (10/1 to score last), the continued quality of Giggs (8/1 to score first), and Scholes and finally Little Mickyâ€™s hat-trick heroics at the home of Volkswagen, and things are going swimmingly in the post-Ronaldo and Tevez era at Old Trafford.
United have a host of players returning from the large injury list for the visit of Aston Villa. Wayne Rooney (13/2 to score a brace), Dimitar Berbatov and Ryan Giggs will all be available as will Nemanja Vidic.
Fergie has provided us with his new pre-game tactic of announcing his defence: “With Vidic coming back [from flu] I should be able to have a back four of Darren Fletcher, Vidic, Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra against Villa.”
Taking into account their recent form â€“ four successive wins, scoring thirteen in the process â€“ and their dominance over Aston Villa in recent seasons, it is difficult to suggest backing Martin Oâ€™Neillâ€™s( Villa are 6/1 to win) side in this one.
To ram home this point, bear in mind the Holte-Enders know that they always lose to United. The 0-0 draw (11/1) in this fixture last season was a major cause for celebration after they had lost the previous 14 matches. Even when Villa went close in April at Old Trafford, a young Italian who hasnâ€™t quite lived up to expectation this season scored a sensational winner. (Federico Macheda is 15/8 to score.)
Yet, Villa are on a high at present and are quietly in the mix for a Champions League spot this season after fading away at the back end of 2008/2009. Freidel, Dunne and Cuellar are all in fine fettle( Villa are 9/2 to keep a clean sheet) whilst Oâ€™Neillâ€™s own collection of burgeoning England wingers (Milner, Downing (7/1 to score) and Young) combined with a big man up front (Heskey or Carew) mean they are dangerous going forward. (4/1 for either Gabriel Agbonlahor or Emile Heskey to score first.)
James Milnerâ€™s (11/2 to score) terrific lob last week against Hull has also added a little more of the feel good factor at Villa Park. Steve Sidwellâ€™s quick thinking proves the squad spirit engendered by Martin Oâ€™Neill and the work ethic running through the side is hugely impressive.
So who to punt for? It has to be Manchester United. (United are 2/1 to win)
We are closing in to the halfway stage of the season when the perennial champions usually improve, and going forward there are just too many options for Villa to deal with. Obertan, Owen and Rooney are all likely goal-scorers, while Villa will be dangerous from set pieces and their aerial advantage could see them scoring.
101gg predicts: Manchester United 2 – Aston Villa 1 (6/1)
Full match odds here.