Manchester United-Aston Villa Preview
By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- The consolation of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League provided a small salve to what could have been one of the worst weeks in the history of Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Manager David Moyes now begins the arduous task of trying to make up ground during the busy season in the Premier League calendar, starting on Sunday when United play at Aston Villa.
Home losses to Moyes' former team Everton and Newcastle United further exacerbated the tension-filled fan base of the reigning champions, who enter play this weekend ninth in the table - United's worst position at any point in the top flight since languishing in 10th after 14 matches in the 1989-90 First Division - and 13 points adrift of front-running Arsenal.
Yet for all their domestic troubles, United (6-4-5) have found some success in continental competition, and finished atop Group A thanks to their 1-0 midweek victory over Shakhtar Donetsk. Phil Jones volleyed home in the 67th minute winner as Moyes' side avoided losing three home matches in a week for the first time since 1962.
"We know we've had a disappointing couple of weeks and we hope that we can kick on from this now," Jones said.
United's first order of business will be ending a 213-minute goal drought in league play dating back to Wayne Rooney's equaliser in their 2-2 draw at Tottenham Hotspur at the start of December. Rooney, who bagged a brace in that game, will be back (after sitting out the loss to Newcastle for accumulating five yellow cards) in a bid to help United avoid being blanked in three consecutive league matches in the same season since April 2-20, 2005. He has three goals in 10 lifetime league matches at Villa Park, but none in the last four.
Robin van Persie, United's joint leader with Rooney in all competitions with 10 goals this season, scored a first-half hat trick in the last meeting between the teams - a 3-0 home victory on April 22 - and has eight goals in as many matches across all play versus the Villains.
"We want to get back to winning ways and there's no better place to go than Villa Park on Sunday and hopefully get another three points," said Ashley Young to the team's official website, although the winger has been scrutinised for his inconsistent play this season. "If we put on a display like we did against Shakhtar we should be able to do that."
Aston Villa (5-4-6) are three points off United's pace and 11th in the table, trailing Swansea on goal difference. They had a five-match unbeaten streak ended on Sunday with a 2-0 loss at Fulham, conceding both goals in a nine-minute span of the first half with the second coming from the spot after a foul by Leandro Bacuna.
"I don't think we played as well as what we have been," manager Paul Lambert told the league's official website. "I couldn't fault the lads for the way they tried to get themselves back into it. But I don't think we got going."
Playing this fixture at home may do Villa no favours - they have taken only seven points from their seven home matches, better than only Sunderland, scoring a league-worst six goals. Lambert's side, though, have conceded only nine on their home patch.
Additionally, Villa have gone 13 home matches without a win in this series, getting only four draws in that span. The corresponding fixture last season was particularly cruel as a brace by Andreas Weimann went for naught as Manchester United rallied for three goals in the final 32 minutes and claimed a 3-2 victory with Javier Hernandez's goal in the 87th minute.
Updated December 13, 2013