The United revival stuttered during the ultra-defensive Manchester derby as a six-game winning run was brought to an end by an organised City side that set out to stifle rather than create, but Sir Alex Ferguson will be confident of returning to winning ways at Villa Park.
Villa have performed adequately this season, having dealt both with the shock resignation of Martin O’Neill and an injury crisis that has deprived them of a substantial number of players in midfield and attack. A crop of players from the youth ranks have made the step up to first-team football in impressive style, but the lack of investment that led O’Neill and James Milner to move on puts a cap on their ambitions.
Gabriel Agbonlahor made his first appearance since September as a substitute in the dramatic 3-2 win over Blackpool in midweek and will be pushing to start, while Nathan Delfouneso scored and had a goal disallowed in that game.
Even so, United look to be more resolute now, gradually eliminating the defensive errors that characterised the first two months of the season and, when they have occurred, they appear to have redeveloped the knack for late winners to compensate. Patrice Evra and Rafael are rated as doubtful for the game but, nonetheless, United will expect to withstand the Villa attack.
Aston Villa player to watch: Marc Albrighton. With Gerard Houllier suffering from a lack of attacking options, Albrighton has been one of a number of young players to have helped plug the gap. A 20-year-old winger who has already been capped for the England Under-21 side, Albrighton has scored twice this season and, along with Barry Bannan, looks to be the brightest of the impressive young talents coming through the ranks at Villa.
Manchester United player to watch: Michael Carrick. Having seen his form tail off badly since his horror show in the 2009 Champions League final – and possibly even before – Carrick has enjoyed something of a revival of late. With Paul Scholes suspended, he is likely to be given another chance to shine.