If somebody said coming into the campaign that these two clubs would be separated by just three points heading into this fixture, the first thought would have been Aston Villa got off to a great start. Instead, Manchester United have struggled mightily and sit in the middle of the table.
The Lions would likely be ahead of United if Christian Benteke were matching his production from last term. The young striker netted 19 goals during his first Premier League campaign but has just four so far this season. Villa need him to step up moving forward.
As for United, they suffered another setback when it was announced Robin van Persie was going to miss a month due to a thigh injury. Other players will have to step up to fill the void with the Red Devils' margin for error already shrinking.
Let's examine all of the key information for the clash, followed by a look at United's rapidly fading title hopes and a match prediction.
Where: Villa Park in Birmingham, England
When: Sunday, Dec. 15, at 8:30 a.m. ET (1:30 p.m. GMT)
Watch: NBC Sports Network and BBC One
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
Match Forecast (via Bloomberg Sports)
Aston Villa: 25.9 percent
Manchester United: 48.8 percent
Draw: 25.3 percent
Top Storyline: Will United Give Reason to Believe They Remain Title Threats?
A quick glance at the table, which sees United trailing Arsenal by double-digit points, doesn't paint a hopeful picture about their chances to repeat. But the parity throughout the Premier League paired with the defending champions' talent makes it hard to count them out, at least for now.
While the Gunners have opened up an edge atop the table, the difference between United and second place was just eight points heading into the weekend. That's hardly an insurmountable total, and a poor run of form from Arsenal would open the door.
Manager David Moyes didn't make any guarantees about where his team is going to end up, but Tim Oscrfot of Manutd.com reports the United boss views the trip to Villa Park as an opportunity for the club to start turning the tide back in its favor:
We see it as an opportunity. We have got a long way to go and we have to try to make sure we only take one game at a time. Football is like that, anyway: we can only take it one game at a time and see what happens later in the season. I can't talk about it now, we're too far away from it but we'll do everything possible to get closer [to the top].
After losses to Everton and Newcastle, two Champions League contenders as the table stands now, United looked better, albeit marginally, in a victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in this season's UCL. At the very least, it's a building block.
With van Persie out, the onus will fall on Wayne Rooney to carry the attacking load. He's already been the club's most reliable player so far, so it shouldn't be a major transition, but he'll still need some help from Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj, among others.
If United are indeed going to make a charge up the table, these are the matches they must win. Getting three points on the road would help, but starting to build some confidence and momentum would be even more important after a sluggish start to the campaign.
The United defense has been in good form, and Villa are only averaging slightly over one goal per match. Assuming those trends continue, the match comes down to how effective Rooney and Co. can be after scoring just one goal over the past three games.
The good news for United is that Villa have allowed four goals over the past two matches against the middling attacks of Southampton and Fulham. Expect Moyes' squad to take advantage of that en route to a narrow road victory.
Manchester United 2, Aston Villa 1