Villa have had a bit of a rocky season so far, with their weekend victory over Blackpool being their first in the league since September.
The three points meant that Houllier’s men rose to 10th in the table, with only goal difference keeping them from snatching a Europa League spot from sixth-placed Bolton Wanderers.
Villa are also only five points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, and at this stage of the season it means that the gaffer still has a chance of bettering his predecessor Martin O’Neill to guide the club to a qualifying spot for Europe’s premier club competition.
However, considering Manchester City and Tottenham’s rise in stock and a resurgent Liverpool hoping to get back into the Champions League, the former Lyon boss may be entertaining more modest ambitions.
Concerning the game ahead, the hosts could be without nine players, but have the comforting record of having not lost at home this season. Their six games at Villa Park have seen the Birmingham-based outfit record three victories and three draws. And before Blackpool put two past their opponents in midweek, Villa’s defense at home had been breached only by Bolton.
The rash of injuries will probably push American youngster Eric Lichaj onto the Villa bench and possibly into some playing time int he near future, while goalkeeper Brad Friedel continues to be steady in the net.
At a personal level, Houllier will likely relish the prospect of taking on the Red Devils, as he masterminded five consecutive victories over Ferguson’s charges during his reign as Liverpool boss. Only Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger has more wins over United, with nine victories against his name.
Manchester United are the only team in the country who currently boast an unbeaten record in all competitions, but the reality of the matter isn’t quite as sweet as the record sounds.
Their performance away from Old Trafford has been pretty average, as their six games have resulted in five draws and a lone victory. The underlying problem has been that the team has been unable to hang on to a lead long enough to claim three points, as Everton’s two late goals against Ferguson’s men showed that they are not as strong as they used to be.
But United traditionally put in better performances during the second half of the season, but the Scot is unlikely to wait around hoping for customary ritualistic rise in form to play a part in the club’s progression in the domestic circuit.
The good work done in pulling closer to league leaders Chelsea – with the victory over Wolves during the weekend - was almost nullified by the dull goalless draw in the midweek derby game against Manchester City. And with draws piling up the way they are, the Red Devils could easily fall off the pace if and when they are subject to a defeat.
But ahead of the trip to Villa Park, Ferguson will know that his side boast of a strong record against the Birmingham-based club. They have lost just once in their last 27 meetings in all competitions, and are unbeaten in the league at Villa's backyard in the last 15 years.
This should give the travelers the impetus to go on and rectify their average record away from home by snatching three points from Houllier’s side.
However, injuries could come in the way as the squad has been hampered in recent weeks owing to a virus, coupled with several players making regular visits to the treatment room.
Gerard Houllier’s squad has been decimated by injuries, as he could be left without nine players for this game.
Habib Beye (ankle) and Carlos Cuellar (calf) are the latest to fall prey to injury, and the duo are thought to be unlikely to be fit in time for the arrival of Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
John Carew (calf) and Emile Heskey (knee) contribute to the Frenchman’s problems in the attacking third of the pitch, but Gabriel Agbonlahor could be in line for a start after coming on as a substitute in the recent victory over Blackpool.
Stephen Ireland may be left on the bench again after getting only 10 minutes out on the pitch in that game, despite Fabian Delph, Stilian Petrov and Nigel Reo-Coker (all knee) on the sidelines. Steve Sidwell (Achilles) is also expected to sit this one out.
Possible starting XI: Friedel; L Young, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Albrighton, Clark, Bannan, Downing; A Young; Agbonlahor.
The visitors are in just as bad shape as their opponents, with Wayne Rooney (ankle) and Michael Owen (hamstring) being absent to bolster the attack. But the presence of Dimitar Berbatov, coupled with the emergence of Javier Hernandez and Bebe, may be mildly comforting, though the Bulgarian’s goal drought may nullify that as well.
Meanwhile, the perennially injured Owen Hargreaves (hamstring) is a familiar face in the treatment room, and he has Antonio Valencia (ankle) and Rafael (dead leg) for company.
To add to Ferguson’s problems, Paul Scholes is suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
Anderson and Darron Gibson are doubtful as the pair are still recovering from a virus, while Patrice Evra (ankle) may not make it back in time. Ryan Giggs could finally shake off his hamstring woes to make a return.
Possible starting XI: Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, O’Shea; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Giggs; Hernandez, Berbatov.
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