Manchester United v Aston Villa, Premier League, February 1, 2011
Aston Villa travel to Old Trafford in the knowledge that they have come the closest of all the Premier League to have beaten Manchester United in 2010/2011. In November, Gerard Houllierâ€™s side looked odds on to beat United when they were leading 2-0 with 10 minutes to go. Goals from Federico Macheda and Nemanja Vidic rescued an unlikely point and United have not played worse this season in the league.
Further evidence that Villa have a chance, despite Manchester Unitedâ€™s excellent home record, is provided by the fact that Gerard Houllierâ€™s side have shown a real resurgence in form in recent weeks. The calendar year began with an impressive 3-3 draw at Chelsea, another game Villa should have won, and has included four wins in seven games.
Many scoffed at the mega fee paid for Darren Bent but the last few results appear to have backed the decision. A goal on his debut saw off Manchester City and the midweek win at Wigan further eased any relegation worries. A fine seven days was completed on Saturday when Aston Villa beat Blackburn 3-1 in the FA Cup fourth round with a weakened team.
Despite goals from the likes of Robert Pires and Nathan Delfouneso, we can expect the team at the DW Stadium to line up at Old Trafford, except for Nathan Baker who was sent off against Blackburn. Darren Bent will once again lead the line with the support from deep of the likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young.
Houllier may well include both Stiliyan Petrov and Jean Makoun to add the necessary energy and bite to the midfield. Whilst they could also be joined Michael Bradley, one of the USAâ€™s most impressive performers at the World Cup, who is expected to join on loan.
Despite Villaâ€™s resurgence of late, Manchester United are heavy favourites to win this match with their recent impressive ability to secure a comeback in spectacular evidence at Blackpool and Southampton.
Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s side have won all their games bar one in 2011 and appear to finally be hitting some form. Dimita Berbatov has scored five goals in his last two appearances and has been much better at Old Trafford this season. Javier Hernandez has also scored in successive games and could well be in line to replace Wayne Rooney who still appears to be out of sorts.
After resting a number of players in the 2-1 comeback win at Southampton on Saturday, Ferguson admitted he had made a few errors in selection and will surely restore his first choice players to ensure they hold their advantage at the top of the Premier League table.
The likes of Edwin van der Sar, Nani, Darren Fletcher, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic will all be restored to first team action. Rio Ferdinand also trained on Sunday and could be involved again after missing the last couple of games.
Aston Villa had a horrible record at Old Trafford for many years, until a surprise 1-0 win there in December 2009. It would be a major surprise if they were the first Premier League side to beat United but they should make life difficult.
101gg predicts: Manchester United 3 â€“ Aston Villa 1.