as­ton villa vs Man united

Villa may have snapped a five-match win-less streak but the Red Devils will present a tougher chal­lenge on Satur­day.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - T MOVIES - by RiCHaRd lim

A Mid­lands visit will pro­vide a stern test for the Red Devils.

AL­THOUGH Manch­ester United pre­served their un­beaten league record, one is in­clined to think that Sir Alex Fer­gu­son viewed the mid-week derby as a case of two points lost.

De­spite in­jury con­cerns and a nag­ging bout of in­fluenza, the Red Devils fielded their first team, bested City in pos­ses­sion and had more shots at goal. How­ever, the win proved to be too elu­sive and a slim Chelsea vic­tory opened up a four-point gap be­tween the BPL’s top two clubs.

Al­though it is still early days in the sea­son, the present sit­u­a­tion is quite a per­plex­ing one for United. They have recorded six draws so far – half of their to­tal league games – and such a statis­tic would be un­think­able in sea­sons past.

At this stage last sea­son, United were scor­ing goals for fun, un­lock­ing the tight­est de­fences. Granted, Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov and Javier Her­nan­dez have stepped up to the plate but their ef­forts are not the an­swer to United’s prob­lems.

It is a fully fit – and com­mit­ted – Rooney that United miss and un­til he re­dis­cov­ers the form that made him the reign­ing PFA foot­baller-of-the-year, the Red Devils will strug­gle to de­liver. And the hero­ics of var­i­ous play­ers merely paper up the cracks at the moment.

A good ex­am­ple would be Park Ji-Sung who grabbed the plau­dits last week for a brace against Wolves. Granted, Three Lung Park is in­dus­try per­son­i­fied but he re­mains an un­likely hero. He is only in the side to play a spe­cific role, no more.

It is a tougher call as far as Ber­ba­tov is concerned. Hav­ing added the labour of love to his lan­guid ge­nius, the Bul­gar­ian is clearly a more ef­fec­tive United player than he ever was. Blessed with im­pec­ca­ble tech­nique, Berba filled the void left by Rooney ear­lier in the sea­son.

How­ever, the fire seems to have cooled and Berba has fired blanks ever since the Liver­pool game – a match where he was sim­ply im­mac­u­late. A work in regress per­haps but un­til a fit-again Rooney re­turns, the Bul­gar­ian re­mains United’s best bet.

Javier Her­nan­dez may be the best Mex­i­can striker since Hugo Sanchez hung up his boots but he needs to score a lot more be­fore he can achieve cult sta­tus. Dis­lodg­ing Michael Owen in the peck­ing or­der is one thing; do­ing the same to Rooney – or Ber­ba­tov – is quite an­other.

And Chi­car­ito might have to be sat­is­fied with a cameo from the bench on Satur­day as Sir Shrek should make his long-awaited re­turn. That’s right. Rooney is done nurs­ing his in­jury – and re­think­ing his soap opera life – in Port­land and he will be back in the reck­on­ing for United.

If his per­sonal his­tory is any­thing to go by,

As­ton Villa’s man­ager Ger­ard Houl­lier, left, talks to his as­sis­tant Gary McAl­lis­ter about turn­ing the screws on the Red Devils. Both for­mer Liver­pool men know all about Fergie’s team. Rooney must be in­censed by his long spell on the side­lines – and the sub­se­quent boot camp. The trick now is for him to trans­late his anger into pos­i­tive ac­tion on the pitch and if he does, hell could break loose at Villa Park.

His tally of 34 goals last sea­son serve a grim re­minder of what a driven Rooney can do and United fans can only await his re­turn with bated breath. Hav­ing recom­mit­ted his fu­ture to United, Rooney is aware that he needs to win back the hearts of the Old Traf­ford faith­ful af­ter his brief City dal­liance.

And there is no bet­ter way to do so than by re­turn­ing to what he does best – scor­ing for fun. His spi­ral of de­cline spanned seven months but if all will be for­got­ten if he re­dis­cov­ers his old form. Wayne’s World re­turns this Satur­day and this par­tic­u­lar episode could be kalei­do­scopic. Watch this space.

To en­sure Rooney and gang get a steady sup­ply of through balls, Sir Alex could opt for a more at­tack­ing mid­field than the three­de­fen­sive mid­fielder strat­egy he de­ployed against an equally un­ad­ven­tur­ous City.

Well, he has to make changes as Paul Sc­holes is sus­pended af­ter he picked up his fifth yel­low card of the sea­son for rough­ing up James Mil­ner one time too many. Rafael da Silva could also miss the match af­ter pick­ing up a thigh strain in the derby.

How­ever, all this is scant con­so­la­tion for Villa who are not given much of a chance, or a prayer. Prior to their 3-2 win over Black­pool, the Vil­lains had not picked up a win in five games. And to make mat­ters worse, pun­dits are writ­ing off their last vic­tory as Black­pool fielded a weak­ened side – con­tain­ing 10 changes from the side which drew 2-2 with Ever­ton.

Even worse, Black­pool came so close to get­ting a share of the spoils be­fore James Collins last-gasp win­ner. The three points were much needed but af­ter such a bar­ren run, it would take a brave man to bet on Ger­ard Houl­lier’s boys on Satur­day.

Houl­lier’s war of words with John Carew has not helped mat­ters. The pair re­ally had a go at each other and al­though a truce has been called, the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect set­tle­ment only serves as tabloid fod­der. Squad har­mony is ques­tion­able at Villa and a house di­vided can­not stand – es­pe­cially against ram­pant Devils.

Per­haps it’s for the bet­ter than Carew will miss Satur­day’s game. Side­lined with a torn calf mus­cle, the Nor­we­gian for­ward has not found the net in eight ap­pear­ances this sea­son and more profli­gacy in front of goal will not help the Villa cause.

That re­spon­si­bil­ity should rest on the shoul­ders of Gabriel Ag­bon­la­hor who should re­claim his place in the start­ing eleven at Nathan Delfouneso’s ex­pense. Hav­ing missed five matches, Ag­bon­la­hor made his re­turn as a sub against Black­pool and he will be rar­ing to re-es­tab­lish the tele­pathic un­der­stand­ing he shared with Ashley Young and Ste­wart Down­ing.

But un­less that hap­pens in dou­ble quick time, United will not be too wor­ried and Sir Alex will be qui­etly con­fi­dent of his side’s chances. The re­turn of the “big man” is nigh and if Rooney re­dis­cov­ers his old form, the an­gels will shy away from Villa Park this Satur­day.

Let’s Kop ‘em:

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