David Moyes is in a hole.
At the beginning of the season, the questions were about whether Manchester United could retain their title. After successive defeats to Everton and Newcastle, the question marks now hover over their ability to finish in the top four.
The midweek win over Shakhtar Donetsk was welcome, but it was hardly a performance to inspire confidence that they could go to Aston Villa on Sunday and end their disappointing run.
United haven't lost at Villa Park in the league since August 1995—the game remembered as graduation day for the Class of '92 and Alan Hansen's infamous comment that "you can't win anything with kids."
It's a fine record, one stretching nearly 20 years. But then again, West Bromwich Albion, Everton and Newcastle hadn't had much luck at Old Trafford before they turned up this season.
With Wayne Rooney back from suspension, Moyes will turn to his star man to get United's season back on track. But with Robin van Persie ruled out with a thigh injury, the United manager's big decision is who partners with the England striker.
He could continue with his pattern of playing two forwards and pick Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez in a 4-4-2. Or he could deploy Shinji Kagawa in the hole behind Rooney.
Moyes has seen both Everton and Newcastle play with an extra midfielder and dominate United in the centre of the pitch. And there will be a temptation to pack his midfield against Aston Villa to make sure United don't get swamped for the third game in a row.
But he has had success playing 4-4-2 away from home this season and will remember the first 45 minutes at Craven Cottage when Fulham were blown away by some blistering counter-attacking football from Rooney and Van Persie.
However, in Van Persie's absence, Moyes is likely to play Kagawa behind Rooney, hopeful that the Japan international will be able to help out in midfield if United find themselves under pressure.
Antonio Valencia was rested in midweek and is likely to start on the right, while Welbeck, Nani and Adnan Januzaj will fight it out for a spot on the left.
Moyes is in a difficult situation. He has to pick a team capable of winning the game, but he can't risk another defeat. A third straight loss in the league would be catastrophic, but a win and a good performance could get United's Premier League campaign going in the right direction right before the busy Christmas schedule.
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