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United keen to keep pressure on
10 Dec 2009 - 14:01:03
Manchester United will be hoping they can follow up their fantastic midweek Champions League victory against Wolfsburg in Germany with another success against Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Sir Alex Ferguson's patched-up side's stoic effort enabled them to clinch top place in the group after they had previously confirmed their passage into the knockout stage of the competition.
Michael Owen's match-winning hat-trick will boost his confidence no end and it will be interesting to see how the diminutive frontman gets on in the coming weeks as he looks to impress England manager Fabio Capello ahead of next summer's World Cup finals.
What was more remarkable about the win was the fact that the Red Devils were without a number of regular first-team defenders.
Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Jonny Evans, Fabio and Gary Neville all missed the game through injury or illness and, with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher slotting into the heart of the defence, the side had a very different look to it.
Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney also missed the game but they could be fit for the clash with Martin O'Neill's men.
A win for the hosts would put pressure on Chelsea at the top of the table, as the Blues are now only two points ahead of the reigning champions.
Villa sit fifth in the table and are just one point behind Tottenham Hotspur in the fourth and final Champions League qualification place.
If United are forced to field another depleted defence this weekend, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, John Carew and James Milner will be capable of pouncing and grabbing a result for the Midlands side and, with just one defeat in their last 11 fixtures, they should be confident regardless of Fergie's team selection.
O'Neill will still be without long-term absentees Wilfred Bouma (ankle) and Curtis Davies (dislocated shoulder).
Last season, United claimed a late energy-sapping 3-2 win against the unlucky Villains at Old Trafford.
Cristiano Ronaldo had opened the scoring with a free-kick before headers by Carew and Agbonlahor stunned the home faithful.
Ronaldo equalised with ten minutes remaining before Italian youngster Federico Macheda, who was making his debut for the club, curled in an excellent winner three minutes into stoppage time.