United are aiming to maintain a five-point cushion at the top against a resurgent Villa…
Villa are languishing in the bottom half of the table but there have been recent signs of an upturn in fortunes; since the arrival of Darren Bent from Sunderland they’ve won both of their league games, as well as beating Blackburn 3-1 in the FA Cup on Saturday. United are through to the fifth round of the cup after a second successive come-from-behind win, this time over Southampton. The Reds are five points clear at the top but won’t be taking Tuesday’s game for granted – Villa won this fixture 1-0 last season and were 2-0 up at Villa Park in November before Kiko Macheda and Nemanja Vidic rescued a point.
Ins and outs
Villa will recall record signing Bent, who was ineligible for the cup win over Blackburn, and otherwise have a near clean bill of health, though Nathan Baker is suspended following his red card against Rovers. United’s defence is set to be bolstered by the return of five players who missed the 2-1 win over Saints: Rio Ferdinand, Rafael, Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic. Michael Carrick is still struggling with an ankle problem.
Bent is not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no mistaking his goalscoring record. He hit 32 in 58 league appearances for previous club Sunderland, and he if he continues the way he began his Villa career – with a matchwinning debut goal against Manchester City – then boss Gerard Houllier will consider his fall-out with Black Cats boss Steve Bruce over the £24million move worth it.
As Liverpool manager, Houllier achieved the rare feat of five successive wins over United between 2000 and 2002. A good friend of Sir Alex, the Frenchman’s return to the English game last September did not immediately herald a new dawn for Villa, but he’s slowly fashioning a talented young side to be reckoned with.