Last updated : 07 January 2007 By Ed


"With a new Wembley, everyone will want to go there at some point.

"Hopefully we can do it this year.

"It will be interesting to see the stadium, which people anticipate will be the finest in the world.

"I would expect it to be absolutely special and it should be considering the money that has been spent on it.

"There will relief when the gates are open - hopefully for us."

Martin O'Neill:

"I can't say that I wouldn't have preferred to be at home against a club about 14 divisions below us," O'Neill admits.

"Ideally, it would have been great if we'd had a couple of weeks before going to Old Trafford to try to get some players in, bolstered by a couple of acquisitions.

"I see signs in this Manchester United side of the team I saw some years ago in the Roy Keane era in respect of them being capable of counterattacking and scoring and of mounting full-scale attacks which can also be hugely damaging.

"Our approach this season has been pretty adventurous, sometimes to our cost, but I would want us to be as adventurous as we can possibly be. We were in the game for an hour against Manchester United. I know an hour's an hour and I'm the first to stop myself in saying that, but we had competed, and United just came away from us because their class told. We will be trying to get something from the game"

"Giggs and Scoles and Gary Neville are lads who have done it week in, week out, month in, month out, year in and year out and they have the championships to go with it. That's what you call a great career in football and that's what everybody at Manchester United aspires to.

"But we have a plan, a cunning plan. It's by Baldrick, but it's a plan."

Fergie rates Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor:

"He's been terrific this year, a real plus point for Martin.

"That is great testimony to his endurance. It's not normal for a young player to play every game but, bearing in mind that Villa have had a few injuries, sometimes players have to find something extra. There's often interest for the first season when players come in, but the second season is always more difficult for a young player. There's more analysis of them. I saw him play last year when he scored a hat-trick for their reserves against us and he's exciting for 20, a quick boy, and he has made a good start."

The problem for Agbonlahor and Villa is that in Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney, they will be facing a team that is rapidly evolving into the finished article. "Giggs and Scoles and Gary Neville are lads who have done it week in, week out, month in, month out, year in and year out and they have the championships to go with it. That's what you call a great career in football and that's what everybody at Manchester United aspires to," O'Neill says before breaking into a mischievous grin.

"But we have a plan, a cunning plan. It's by Baldrick, but it's a plan." It will need to be good to alter the course of his career in the FA Cup.


"When you are playing well and winning, you look forward to playing matches.

"It does not matter whether it is a cup tie or a league game - you just want to express yourself.

"We have to be challenging for things at this club.

"The FA Cup is a massive trophy -and United have a tremendous record over the years.

"I have played in quarter-finals but that's as close as it has been and something I want to put right."

The Telegraph:

Five years ago, when Sir Alex Ferguson was supposed to be quitting as manager of Manchester United, a hot tip for the succession was Martin O'Neill; the other leading candidate according to the bookies, incidentally, was Sven-Goran Eriksson, a brilliant Swede (lest the mood of the time be forgotten) who had guided England to a 5-1 triumph in Germany. Then Ferguson changed his mind and it was reported that the timing suited United because O'Neill was tied to Celtic and Eriksson still had history to make with David Beckham and company. Daily Telegraph readers were further informed that ''the pair, plus Bayern Munich's Ottmar Hitzfeld, may be more amenable to an offer in three years".

It was a well-informed summary; the writer could not have been expected to know that O'Neill's wife, Geraldine, would fall ill, inducing him to take a sabbatical when he left Parkhead, or that, in any case, Ferguson would prove unable to let the United job go. Meanwhile the standings of Hitzfeld and especially Eriksson have declined. Yet last week, when odds were quoted against a long and increasingly playful list of people who might take over from Ferguson at some unspecified point, O'Neill was still to be found at the top. Jointly with Mark Hughes on 7-2, even though Hughes, unlike O'Neill, is an Old Trafford legend whose current club have actually managed to win some of their last 10 matches (an impressive six, in fact). Football fans may have short memories. Bookies rely on a certain shrewdness and someone must be advising them of a force still drawing O'Neill, despite his travails at Aston Villa, to United every bit as strongly as Hughes is being drawn back from Blackburn. So why should that be? The question is pertinent on a day when he takes Villa to Old Trafford in the FA Cup.

You need a big personality for a big job, certainly, and O'Neill, having long observed and gleaned from Brian Clough, was never likely to be daunted by life at Celtic. The scale of the effect he had previously exerted on Leicester, who twice qualified for Europe under his guidance, can best be gauged by their subsequent slide. It was, then, inevitable that, when O'Neill let it be understood that Geraldine's health had improved sufficiently to allow him to be considered as Eriksson's successor with England, the FA should move smartly to interview him. We gather the meeting foundered on his attitude to youth development, which he said was someone else's function; it would be hard enough getting the best out of the national team. At any rate, Steve McClaren was handed that responsibility and O'Neill, disappointed but philosophical, landed at Villa, where, to judge from his fidgety demeanour after last Tuesday's draw with Chelsea, he is not entirely happy; the question of how much money he will be able to invest in the squad this winter may have something to do with that.


Henrik Larsson is expected to make his debut for Manchester United after joining the club on loan, partnering Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Tomasz Kuszczak will make his fourth appearance of the season, replacing Edwin van der Sar in goal.

Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry will return after suspension but Olof Mellberg serves a one-match ban.

With Thomas Sorensen still injured, Villa have been given permission to play on-loan keeper Gabor Kiraly.

Man Utd (from): Kuszczak, Neville, Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Silvestre, Evra, Heinze, Ronaldo, Park, Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes, O'Shea, Giggs, Richardson, Rooney, Solskjaer, Larsson, Heaton.

Aston Villa (from): Kiraly, Olejnik, Hughes, Cahill, Ridgewell, Bouma, Agbonlahor, Petrov, Davis, McCann, Barry, Osbourne, Gardner, Angel, Baros, Samuel, Whittingham, Agathe, Djemba-Djemba.

BBC Weather:

Ranging from sunny spells to scattered showers. 9°C.