December 18, 2014

Manchester United's attack was insipid in their opener, and while help may soon be on the way from the Champions League winners, the Red Devils might not yet need it against Aston Villa.

Louis van Gaal's retooled squad will be seeking some sort of creative spark Friday night to continue an unbeaten streak at Villa Park that stretches back nearly 20 years.

The match, scheduled for Friday due to an English Defence League march in the West Midlands on Saturday, is United's shot at extending a 19-match unbeaten streak at Villa Park that's produced 12 victories since last losing there on Aug. 19, 1995.

They've also won eight of the last nine overall meetings with a 25-6 aggregate. The only dropping of points came in a 1-1 draw at Villa Park on Dec. 20. The Lions have just three wins in 46 Premier League meetings between the two, so Villa winning their first two matches since the 1999-2000 season seems unlikely.

"It will be a tough game," Villa defender Micah Richards told the club's official website. "United will obviously be one of the favourites for the title and they have some world-class players. But we've recruited well. We have hungry and talented players in our dressing room and we'll be giving it everything to get the right result."

The goal scoring in that match helps explain the state of each club's evolution entering this match with United getting a 53rd-minute equaliser from the departed Radamel Falcao after new Liverpool striker Christian Benteke gave Villa an 18th-minute lead.

Benteke also scored in a 3-1 loss at Old Trafford on April 4, while Ander Herrera's brace and a goal from Wayne Rooney took care of United's scoring.

While rumours of Pedro's potential transfer from Barcelona continue and Bastian Schweinsteiger nears full fitness, van Gaal could deploy the same starting 11 that earned a 1-0 victory Saturday at Old Trafford on a Tottenham Hotspur own goal.

United managed one shot on frame with Memphis Depay slotting in behind Rooney and Juan Mata and Ashley Young on the wings. Schweinsteiger debuted as a 60th-minute substitute for Michael Carrick as the longtime Bayern Munich midfielder attempts to work all the way back from a preseason calf injury.

The Red Devils haven't won their first two matches of a season since beginning 2011-12 with five straight victories.

"The first game is so so important," Carrick told the club's official website. "I think we found that last season as we didn't really start well in the first game and straight away we were playing catch-up. So it was vital we won on Saturday. The performance wasn't what we would expect, really, it was not up to the standard we want, but it was all about the result and I'm sure the performances will come in the weeks ahead."

While the Red Devils aren't quite mourning Falcao's departure, Benteke left a massive hole in the Lions' attack, though they got a promising debut from Rudy Gestede in Saturday's 1-0 win at Championship title holders Bournemouth. The former Blackburn Rovers forward entered in the 59th minute for his club debut and scored in the 72nd on a header. His first start could follow in his home debut, of which one of his teammates didn't downplay the importance.

"It's Man United," Ciaran Clark said. "It's the first home game of the season. We're back at Villa Park. It's a sell-out under the lights. I'm not sure it can get much better than that. You've got all the makings of a great game."

The Lions, however, could remain without Jack Grealish (hamstring) and Carles Gil (ankle), despite the midfield duo returning to training.

United's Marouane Fellaini is serving the second of a three-match suspension after he was sent off in last season's finale, and defender Phil Jones (mild thrombosis) is also out.

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