Alex Ferguson will turn to his strongest possible defence as Manchester United aim to shackle Aston Villa striker Darren Bent and maintain their lead at the top of the Premier League on Tuesday.
United’s second-string defence was given a torrid time by League One side Southampton in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday, conceding a goal before Ferguson’s men fought back to win 2-1.
Having survived that scare, Ferguson is taking no chances when the league battle resumes against Villa at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Edwin Van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rafael Da Silva are all expected to return to the starting line-up after missing out on the trip to St Mary’s.
“We should have our back four back against Villa,” Ferguson said.
“Vidic should be alright. Rio started running on Thursday and hopefully will be okay by Tuesday.
“Rafael should also be okay, he got the all-clear on Friday (after concussion at Blackpool) and Patrice Evra had a family bereavement so we left him out at Southampton.”
While United remain unbeaten this season, Ferguson is mindful of the fact that Villa are the side which has come closest to inflicting defeat on his team when the sides met at Villa Park in November.
Villa led 2-0 with less than 10 minutes to go before goals from Federico Macheda and Vidic earned United a point.
Since then Villa have been sucked towards the relegation zone but have shown signs of an improvement in the New Year and upset Manchester City in their last outing thanks to a goal from Bent.
Ferguson said Bent - signed for £24 million from Sunderland earlier in the transfer window - could be a valuable signing for Villa.
“Whatever you say about Bent, he’s certainly got a reasonable goal ratio at all his clubs. He cost a lot of money but that will be justified if he gets them into a far-better position,” Ferguson said.
“When you are down there in the Premier League it’s not easy to get out of it. But two victories can make a difference and they are getting their squad back after injuries.”
While United face Villa, second placed Arsenal will attempt to maintain their title push against Everton at the Emirates.
Arsenal will be without Samir Nasri, who injured a hamstring in the 2-1 win over Huddersfield in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted losing Nasri at a stage of the season when the Gunners are fighting on four fronts was a blow.
“At this important stage of the season to lose bodies is disappointing for us,” he said.
“I have regrets at playing him as the plan was to first to play (Tomas) Rosicky, but he was still too weak and was sick. I took a gamble and it backfired.”
Chelsea meanwhile face a potentially awkward trip to sixth placed Sunderland where they may or not be unveiling Fernando Torres.
Chelsea have bid £35 million for the Liverpool striker, who has requested a transfer from Anfield. A deal must be completed by 11:00pm Monday (2300 GMT) if Chelsea are to be able to have Torres available.
Other matches in a full midweek programme see Manchester City travel to Birmingham on Wednesday while Tottenham will attempt to bounce back from their 4-0 FA Cup mauling at Fulham in their match against Blackburn.
Liverpool will attempt to build on their encouraging recent form under Kenny Dalglish - two Premier League wins in a row - with a home game against Stoke on Wednesday.
Tuesday: Arsenal v Everton (1945), Sunderland v Chelsea (1945), Man Utd v Aston Villa (2000), West Brom v Wigan (2000)
Wednesday: Birmingham v Man City (1945), Blackburn v Tottenham (2000), Blackpool v West Ham (2000), Bolton v Wolverhampton (2000), Fulham v Newcastle (2000), Liverpool v Stoke (2000)
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