United look to dispatch Villa
London – Leaders Manchester United will be hoping to maintain their momentum this weekend at Aston Villa by staying ahead of Chelsea and Manchester City at the top of the English Premier League.
Sir Alex Ferguson's men have not lost at Villa Park in the league since 1995 and, having overtaken Chelsea at the top, go into the match high on confidence.
With Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney working well together in attack, Ferguson has to decide whether to include Javier Hernandez against a Villa side just one place above the relegation zone.
Rooney said the midweek 3-1 Champions League win at Braga had further boosted their confidence as they return to league action.
“We're in a good position and we know we can play better football,” he said. “Now we have a run of games where we feel we can get maximum points, so hopefully we can do that.”
United have lost just once away from home in the league this season but Villa's Marc Albrighton said the home team were due a win.
“It's long overdue,” he said. “We went so close in 2010 and last time out it was only 1-0 to them. It's always a tight affair. We never make it an easy game for them.
“I still think Manchester United is the big game in the calendar at Villa Park. There's always a special atmosphere when that match is on. All the players are right up for it.
“There's something in the air. In my era they have been the team to beat. I love playing against Manchester United, whether here or at Old Trafford. Hopefully we can get something off them this weekend.”
United could be without defender Jonny Evans and midfielder Nani for the trip to Birmingham but another defender, Chris Smalling, could be fit for the first time since May.
If United slip up, both Chelsea and Manchester City will be ready to take advantage if they can beat Liverpool and Tottenham, respectively.
Chelsea take on Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, fresh from a last-minute 3-2 Champions League win against Shakhtar Donetsk, while City have to bounce back from another disappointment in Europe in the form of a 2-2 against Ajax Amsterdam.
Chelsea captain John Terry is available again after suspension for racial abuse but manager Roberto Di Matteo may choose to leave him out, as he did against Donetsk on Wednesday.
“JT is a fantastic player for this club and our team, he has got many qualities and I am very happy he is back available for us after the ban,” Di Matteo said.
“Considering the last four weeks in his professional life he has played one competitive game. I thought we needed people that were 100 per cent match fit for a game like this. But I am very glad that he is available for us.”
The poor European form of the Champions has been the opposite of their league form, sitting just two points behind United in third place.
Defender Pablo Zabaleta said City simply need to knuckle down and concentrate on the job of beating an inconsistent Tottenham side.
“We have to keep going, work hard and focus on Sunday,” the Argentinian said.
“Tottenham are a very good side. “We're only two points behind United and we need to keep fighting.”
Bottom side Southampton will be desperate for a home win as they take on Swansea, while Reading and Queens Park Rangers, the other two sides in the bottom three, search for their first league wins of the season. QPR are away to Stoke City while Reading host Norwich City.
Arsenal host Fulham and Everton meet Sunderland, while Wigan face West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United take on West Ham United. – Sapa-dpa