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United 90 minutes away from number 20

article_7a045a266e23bc7e_1352576179_9j-4aaqskA Monday night game against Aston Villa wouldn’t normally set the pulse racing, but tonight’s match is an altogether different proposition. Three points against Paul Lambert’s men will clinch United’s 20th league title with four games to go, an impressive achievement despite the critics Sir Alex’s troops have been subject to since August.

After having their wind somewhat knocked out of their sails by City two weeks ago, United produced a professional performance to win at Stoke and laboured to a draw against West Ham on Wednesday night, further proof that the, at times, brilliant performances that had produced 45 goals in the first 18 league meetings are a distant memory.

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With City in command for over 70 minutes yesterday, tonight’s game had assumed the semblance of another routine step towards the title, but Spurs’ brilliant comeback mean that tonight United have the first opportunity to wrestle the crown of Premier League champions away from City’s grasp – a possibility that had looked far from certain when the season kicked off almost nine months ago.

While United very rarely tend to pass on this kind of opportunities, and their record at home against the Villans is superb – the visitors have won only once in their last 34 visits to Old Trafford – Villa have plenty to play for themselves as they’re only three points ahead of third-bottom Wigan – but the Latics will have a game in hand after tonight’s encounter – and know that a win will condemn QPR and Reading to the Championship. Paul Lambert’s side, seemingly doomed at different stages of the season, have rediscovered a decent vein of form in recent weeks winning three of their last five games and losing only one.

Villa, who along with Newcastle and Wigan boast the league’s worst defensive record having conceded 60 goals, put United to the sword for 60 minutes back in November when Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann combined to put Paul Lambert’s side 2-0 up, before Javier Hernandez inspired United to a 3-2 win.

Benteke and Weimann are likely to be Villa’s main men yet again and Gabriel Agbonlahor could also feature after recovering from injury, while Richard Dunne, Chris Herd, Marc Albrighton and Gary Gardner will all miss out as will former Villa man Ashley Young, who’s been ruled out for the remainder of the season.

Young’s absence isn’t likely to disrupt United’s plan for the England international’s contribution has been abysmal this season, with only three assists to his name. With Paul Scholes also out with a knee injury and Tom Cleverley seemingly out of favour in recent weeks, Sir Alex could be tempted to deploy Wayne Rooney in midfield yet again as he did against Stoke.

Should Fergie opt for a more classic 4-4-2, then Rooney will probably partner Van Persie up-front as the Dutchman looks to score for his third game in a row, having put an end to his 9-game drought a week ago. With Rooney and Van Persie up-front, Shinji Kagawa is likely to feature on the left yet again, a position from which he’s produced three goals and two assists in his last seven games.

Whoever Sir Alex decides to play, though, you can bet that he’ll demand nothing less than a spirited performance tonight, to finally banish last May’s demons once and for all.

Sir Alex has again called for the fans to produce the kind of raucous atmosphere that welcomed Real Madrid in the Champions League, and fans could play a massive role tonight. So, whether you’ll be at Old Trafford or watching the game in a pub or at home, should a United player misplace a pass tonight, rather than moan in disappointment, just think how you felt when Aguero scored last season.

Dan (@MUFC_dan87)

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