Manchester United will look to wrap up the 2012-13 English Premier League title when they clash with lowly Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Monday night.
Courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur's come-from-behind defeat of Manchester City, United were given the opportunity to wrap up the league title this weekend in front of their home fans—seemingly the perfect way to clinch their 13th Premier League trophy.
However, Aston Villa will be out to spoil the party for United this weekend, with the relegation-threatened club making for a very difficult matchup indeed.
As we saw on the final day of action last year, the prospect of relegation can drive even the lowest of teams to challenge those in reach of the title, and United will no doubt be wary of the threat Villa pose in this one as a result of that.
Will United clinch the league title this on Monday night, or will Villa stun the home side and delay their celebrations for at least another week?
Read on for a full preview of this game including all the important details, live viewing information, analysis and predictions.
Date: Monday April 22, 2013
Start time: 3 p.m. ET (8 p.m. British time)
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Live Stream and TV Information
Coverage of this match is available in the United States via SiriusXM FC, TalkSport Radio, ESPN Deportes and ESPN2, according to Live Soccer TV.
Sky Go, Sky Sports 1 Ireland, Sky Sports 3D, BBC Radio 5 Live and Sky Sports 1/HD will do the same throughout the United Kingdom.
A live stream of the game can be found via ESPN3 (United States).
2012-13 English Premier League Season
Previous Encounters This Year
Manchester United and Aston Villa have only played one fixture this year, with the Red Devils emerging with a thrilling 3-2 defeat at Villa Park.
Goals to midfielder Andreas Weimann in the 45th and 50th minute gave the Villans a shock 2-0 lead over United, before substitute Javier Hernandez began his impressive goalscoring spree—netting in the 58th minute and having his shot deflected over the line in the 63rd minute by Ron Vlaar.
He would then net in the 87th minute after getting his head on a Robin van Persie free kick—finishing off a stellar comeback from United that had also seen him hit the crossbar twice on the night as well.
After chalking up an impressive undefeated streak that spanned from mid-November to early April, the Red Devils suffered just their fourth defeat of the season when they lost 2-1 to Manchester City.
They were also perhaps a little fortunate to earn a 2-2 draw with West Ham last week, with Robin van Persie's equalizing goal coming from an offside position.
Interestingly, United's last five games have only seen three wins—two of which were just 1-0 victories over lowly teams in Reading and Sunderland. That will no doubt give Aston Villa hope here, especially with the knowledge that they have suffered just one defeat in their past five games.
It is without doubt Villa's best run of the season so far, and with just two of their past nine League away games ending in defeat, Paul Lambert's men will be more than ready to launch a challenge in this one.
Key Players and Storylines to Watch
Manchester United: David De Gea, GK
Given all the attacking talent that Manchester United have at the moment, it might seem strange to focus on David De Gea as the key player to watch for United.
However, having watched the Spaniard for the Red Devils this season, there is little doubting his importance to this team and the huge role that he will play for them in this one—especially against an attack that has shown they can get the better of United's defense.
De Gea was forced to make a number of big saves when the two sides met earlier in the year and is seemingly in much better form now than before.
The 22-year-old has kept clean sheets in over a third of his home games this season and will be looking to do the same again here—something that he may well do given that United have conceded just four goals in their last seven games at Old Trafford.
Look for De Gea to be a huge difference-maker for United in this one.
Aston Villa: Andreas Weimann, CAM
Weimann showed to be the star player against United when they met earlier in the season, and he'll no doubt fill a similar role in this one, as the Villans will look to attack the Red Devils' through the middle.
Christian Benteke has been a powerful force up front, but it's been the play of Weimann in behind that has been most successful for Villa, with the star playmaker netting six goals and two assists this season despite being played in a myriad roles and positions.
West Ham showed last week against United that having a strong, physical presence at the top of the attack (in Andy Carroll) can be very beneficial for the players running off him. They showed that scoring goals against United that way is possible, and Villa will no doubt look to replicate that with their use of Benteke and Weimann throughout this fixture.
The 21-year-old ran riot over the Red Devils earlier in the season and he'll certainly be a huge attacking threat to watch out for this week.
Can Villa's Defense Hold Up Against the Red Devils' Attack?
As much as Manchester United's game has changed of late to be a more defensively minded approach and less of a free-for-all in attack, you get the feeling that this fixture against Aston Villa may well see a shift back to their earlier style of play.
United have scored more goals than anyone else this year, and Villa have conceded the second-highest number of goals—making for a perfect attacking storm for the Red Devils—which would no doubt be accentuated by the Villans attacking or even scoring against United themselves.
Brad Guzan has been superb this season, but the question mark remains as to whether he is capable of holding out for the full 90 minutes against United.
Villa's defense has been strong in patches in 2013 but has struggled to consistently dominate an entire game. Which, against a strong attacking team like United who habitually score late on, is something they'll definitely have to watch out for in this one.
Can Villa's defense hold up against the Red Devils' attack enough so that their offense can find some opportunities at the other end of the pitch?
That will be the key question in this one.
Three Stats to Consider
34. Aston Villa have only won one of their past 34 fixtures against Manchester United (nine draws, 24 losses), with their last win coming back in 2009.
11. Aston Villa have lost just three of their past 11 away games in the Premier League, with all of those losses coming against current top-four teams.
21. Manchester United have scored in their last 21 Premier League games. The second-longest active run at the moment is five (Aston Villa/Chelsea).
It would seemingly take a minor miracle for Aston Villa to defeat Manchester United in this one, and whilst that is certainly possible given their relegation threat and the form they showed earlier in the year against United, it's hard to see that happening at Old Trafford.
Especially not when United's 20th league title is sitting there on the sidelines.
The Red Devils have been a dominant force all season and have shown they have what it takes to beat opposition regardless of the circumstances.
They'd have to make a monumental mistake or two to not break down the Aston Villa defence given how poor it's been at times this year, and whilst the goals have slowed down for United lately, it's hard to see them completely drying up in this one.
Sir Alex Ferguson will have his side primed for victory when the opening whistle goes, and he'll be there celebrating with them when the final whistle goes also.
Villa's relegation threat will remain ongoing, and a fascinating storyline to follow, but the biggest talking point will be that of Manchester United and the fact that once again, they are the English Premier League champions.
Manchester United 2, Aston Villa 1
Hit me up on Twitter for more sports goodness: Follow @dantalintyre
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!