Much had been made of United’s selection problems in the build-up to the game, but Villa were equally hampered by injury and illness with as many as 10 regular first-teamers unavailable. Sir Alex made two changes to the side that earned a point at Eastlands, with Wes Brown coming in for the injured Rafael and Javier Hernandez adding weight to United’s attack, which was without the services of the suspended Paul Scholes.
Gerard Houllier, meanwhile, was forced to call upon a number of his burgeoning, yet inexperienced, youngsters to fill the squad - four of whom had played in the Reserves’ play-off final against United last May at Old Trafford. The Midlanders still posed a big threat up front, though, with Ashley Young alongside the fit-again Gabriel Agbonlahor, who was back in the starting line-up for the first time in almost two months.
Despite having not lost a league game for 15 years at Villa Park, the Reds had been forced to settle for a point on the last two visits. With Chelsea already holding a mini advantage at the top of the table, Sir Alex’s men knew only victory would do this time round and the visitors set about the task with real eagerness. But while United were dominant in possession early on, Villa’s young team weren't about to be rolled over and they did their utmost to match the Reds' energy and endeavour during a somewhat scrappy first half.