Every club has that one opponenet against whom they boast an impeccable record, against whom they'd be almost certain of victory even when below par. If there's more than one such opponent for Manchester United, Aston Villa definitely make that list. United head to Villa Park for a rare three o'clock fixture seeking an unprecedented (in this season at least) 7th straight premier league win.
If the pair of fixtures against Southampton and Liverpool were to be feared, Saturday's trip Paul Lambert's side was supposed to be the breather in between two further tests against Newcastle United on Boxing Day and Tottenham on the first day of 2015. As things turned out though, United came through those fixtures with maximum points to stir talk of a title challenge from a side many tipped to finish outside the top 4 when Leicester City recorded a 5-3 fluke in September.
It's hard to imagine United coming away from Villa Park without all three points as it is the proverbial happy hunting ground. Even David Moyes managed to look good there last December recording a comfortable 3-0 win. The resurgence in the side, you'd imagine, should just about be enough to put this one to bed. In fact, on paper, the next dropped points (if any) can only reasonably be expected tp be dropped at White Harte Lane on New Year's Day.
BUT, in the words of one great Scot, football has a way of kicking you in the teeth! The game is never played on paper. United's flaws, that have been apparent throughout the six game winning run, can still be punished by anyone if they remain uncorrected. Certainly you'd hope that our defence shall not be as generous to Christian Benteke as they were to Raheem Sterling.
Saturday marks the first of four fixtures over a busy festive period. The result at Villa Park will therefore set the tone. If Wayne Rooney actually meant that United are going for the title this season, then obviously the shackles are off. Every game from hereon is an opportunity to shake the very foundations on which the premier league is built.
Last minute injuries permitting, we should have a strong team out. Angel Di Maria should make his return whilst Radamel Falacao is desperately due a start. If he doesn't start such a fixture, when fit, with no derby pressure or anything like that, then goodness knows what it will take. With Michael Carrick back in the side, there is no need to start Marouanne Fellaini in such a fixture. We finally have all the players to waltz a side in the manner we did at the start of the season. Whether the boss thinks otherwise remains to be seen, but come what may, the three at the back system needs to be done away with as soon as possible. In fact, if Villa away suddenly proves to be tough, it could have everything to do with the 3-5-2. We've incredibly gotten away with it so far agaisnt some good sides, but you can only push your luck so far.
Nonetheless, a result regardless of the torture the formation puts us through during the game, will do just fine.