Aston Villa out to put Manchester United's title procession on hold
Premier League strugglers hope for at least a draw at Old Trafford as Red Devils look to bounce back from run of two games without a win
Manchester United can seal their 20th English title by beating Aston Villa tonight after Manchester City's 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last night.
However, although United seem certain to succeed City as champions, they are not surging towards the finish line in a blaze of glory.
Their last home game saw them beaten 2-1 by City, and at West Ham United last Wednesday, the visitors had to come from behind twice and needed a 77th-minute goal from Robin van Persie to escape Upton Park with a 2-2 draw.
Villa will travel to Old Trafford buoyed by a run of form in which they have taken 10 points from a possible 15, and knowing that a surprise victory would have huge ramifications on their struggle at the lower end of the table.
If the visitors were to win, both Reading and Queens Park Rangers would be relegated, and third-bottom Wigan Athletic would be cut six points adrift of safety.
Villa have beaten Stoke City 3-1 and drawn 1-1 at home to Fulham in their last two outings, and United manager Ferguson says their recent performances prove they have the stomach for the relegation fight.
"We expect a scrap. The least you expect is for a team to fight for everything when they're down there," he said.
"Villa showed against Stoke that they have a bit of life about them and they should have won their game against Fulham last week. When I saw the structure of those teams, they looked really positive selections.
"A lot of teams in that situation may pick a team to get something out of the game. Paul Lambert picked a team to win. There is a distinction."
Ferguson has virtually a full squad to select from and must decide whether or not to persevere with striker Wayne Rooney, who was withdrawn in the 71st minute at West Ham after a subdued performance.
Winger Ashley Young will definitely not feature against his former club, however, due to an ankle injury that will keep him out until the end of the season.
Instead, the England international plans to watch the game in the stands with former Villa teammate Stiliyan Petrov, who this week announced that he was in remission after a year of intensive treatment for leukaemia.
"I'm going to watch the game together with Ashley Young," the Bulgarian central midfielder said. "He wasn't happy, but I said we're going to take something from the game. It will be exciting. The boys are looking forward to the game.
"It's a great stadium, it's Man United and you want to play games like that every week. The boys will be up for it and I hope we can get a result there."
Villa are likely to be at full strength, with Belgian striker Christian Benteke sure to be the focus of United's attention at the end of a week that saw him shortlisted for the Professional Footballers' Association Players' Young Player of the Year award.
Villa's run-in includes games with fellow relegation candidates Sunderland and Wigan, as well as a home fixture with Chelsea on the season's penultimate weekend, but Lambert believes they are well placed to avoid the drop.
"If somebody had said we'd take four points out of the games against Stoke and Fulham, I would have taken them," he said.
"Fulham don't get the credit they deserve. I can't fault the players, with all the effort they put in and the chances they created."