Premier League preview: Aston Villa v Manchester United
By Football News
Like much of their European campaign this season, United were far from their best against Sporting Braga but managed a fourth consecutive win in their group after trailing early and weathering a blackout.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson had the luxury of bringing Robin van Persie off the bench, with the Dutchman scoring the first of three goals inside the final 10 minutes to guarantee the Red Devils' progression with a 3-1 win, rather handily with two group games still to play.
The stars appear to have aligned this season for United as they so often do - qualification from one of the softest Champions League groups already guaranteed on Wednesday and top of the English Premier League by a point without setting the world alight.
It has become a habit of Ferguson's results-driven side but United, again, have not played particularly well in the opening stages of the season and were afforded a slice of luck to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on their way to the top of the table.
It all bodes well for a side that missed the Champions League last-16 last season and trailed neighbours Manchester City for much of the league campaign.
Van Persie should be better for the rest while Rio Ferdinand, who was also used as a substitute on Wednesday, may earn a starting berth.
Chris Smalling came straight in for his first game since he injured his foot in pre-season which comes just at the right time after fellow central defender Nemanja Vidic was ruled out until Christmas because of his knee injury.
Meanwhile, Japan international Shinji Kagawa and Phil Jones (both knee) are likely to be out for another fortnight.
For Villa, striker Darren Bent is in doubt again with an ankle injury and joins Charles N'Zogbia, Richard Dunne and Stiliyan Petrov on the sidelines.
The form of seven-million pound signing Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor in Bent's absence will please Lambert, despite the manager questioning the Belgian's work rate in the side's 3-2 League Cup win over Swindon on Tuesday.
Benteke scored a brace in that match and has four goals in seven games while Agbonlahor scored the winner in Villa's 1-0 defeat of Sunderland, a result that gave Lambert's side valuable breathing space to the relegation zone.
Villa are still just one place above the drop but have a four-point buffer and can eye off as high as 11th with a win over United.