Sir Alex Ferguson harbours both empathy and respect for Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert, a young Scot instilling his own philosophy at a new club. But the United boss will nevertheless seek to exploit a still-evolving set-up when his team heads there for Saturday’s late kick-off.
The Reds moved top of the league with a 2-1 win over Arsenal last weekend, while Manchester City and Chelsea both dropped points. Villa, meanwhile, recorded back-to-back victories for the first time this season when they followed a 3-2 League Cup win over Swindon Town with a narrow 1-0 league triumph over Sunderland. They remain one place above the relegation zone.
Lambert is the eighth different man to take charge of team affairs at Villa Park in the last decade, and although most clubs pale into comparison with the United manager's longevity, Sir Alex feels that kind of instability is difficult to regulate.
"Paul Lambert is a new manager there,” Sir Alex said at his pre-match press conference. "It's a big task and a daunting one as Villa are not where everyone expects them to be. If you look at the team, it's a completely new team: a new back four, a new midfield and a new striker from the Belgian league [Christian Benteke]. It does take time to change teams. When you've got that many new players, it's hard but Paul has done well as a manager and is still young.
"Villa have a great history of course, winning the European Cup in 1982 by beating Bayern Munich, having won the league the year before. I think it's probably correct to say they haven't matched their expectations over the years. When we pipped them to the title [in 1992/93], that was a good team, but you wonder if the managers changing has a big effect on the playing standards of the team. They've had quite a few managers over the years, including Brian Little, John Gregory, David O'Leary, Martin O'Neill and Alex McLeish. It's quite a collection."
Villa Park has been a favourite ground of Sir Alex’s down the years. United last lost at Villa Park in the League Cup in October 1999 and haven’t been defeated there in the league since August 1995. Perhaps more memorably, it has served as the stage for numerous FA Cup semi-final triumphs – 1999’s semi-final replay against Arsenal is fondly recollected but