Houllier asks for patience but Villa's youngsters making quick impression

The last time Aston Villa defeated Manchester United at home, on the opening day of the 1995-96 season, Alan Hansen infamously assured Match of the Day viewers: "You'll win nothing with kids.

Today, when United return to Villa Park, it will be the new Villa manager and an old friend-cum-adversary of Sir Alex Ferguson, Gérard Houllier, who will be trusting in youth.

Injuries have deprived Houllier of seven first-choice players, forcing him to try to improve on a record of just one victory in 27 League games against United, and to take on Ferguson, who he hails as a "genius", with as many as four players aged 21 and under in his starting line-up. Two 20-year-olds, Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan, are poised to line up with Ciaran Clark, 21, in midfield. Nathan Delfouneso, 19, may retain his place after scoring in what Houllier termed a "much-needed win" against Blackpool, perhaps partnering a fifth Academy graduate, the fit-again 24-year-old Gabriel Agbonlahor, in an all-Brummie front two.

Only his fellow Frenchman, Arsène Wenger, has more wins (nine) against Ferguson than Houllier, who guided Liverpool to an astonishing five in a row over United. His team then featured the young Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard, although they were already England players.

"I think I agree with Alan [Hansen]," said Houllier. "He meant it can be dangerous when you have too many kids at the same time. If you have good, older players who have the experience and show the appetite and example of how to work and win, it can be passed on. United had [Steve] Bruce and [Gary] Pallister to help their kids. I'm pleased we have experience in our back four. We took Gary McAllister to Liverpool when he was 35 to be an example and he won trophies with us."

On the prospect of pitting Albrighton and Co against United, England's only unbeaten side, Houllier added: "It doesn't daunt me, it excites me. It will be interesting. There's no expectation on my part. I just want them to enjoy their football and be as good as they can be. We just need to make sure we don't show United too much respect. They're so good, we must not watch them play.

"With young players you need to be patient. I think one of them will have a very poor game at some point, but you mustn't judge them on that. Bannan was distraught [after being substituted] against Burnley [in the Carling Cup] because he thought it was a make-or-break game. But he looks a player.

"He's one of five or six who have grown up at Villa so this club means something to them. Gabby is another and he has just signed a new contract until June 2015. I just want to make sure he keeps growing. The target is to make him a regular player for the England team."

United's class of '95, thumped 3-1 by Brian Little's Villa, went on to prove they had the qualities of "intelligence and desire" Houllier views as pre-requisites for young players. Ferguson will be without the only survivors of that squad, with Paul Scholes suspended, Gary Neville injured and Ryan Giggs unfit, but Houllier is no less impressed by the United manager now than when he left English football in 2004.

"He's a genius. Look at his record with different [United] teams. Being at the top is one thing. Staying there is more complicated." Houllier distilled Ferguson's enduring excellence in to four points, saying: "He knows football inside out in terms of the evolution of the game and players. He's a workaholic; you can call him at 8am and he's in the office. He's a very loyal person to his club, his players and friends. You never saw one single word of criticism against [Eric] Cantona after the kung-fu incident. And there's his capacity to evolve. He doesn't say 'this is how I do it and I won't change'."

Wayne Rooney will return to Manchester tomorrow and report back to training on Monday morning. He is expected to be fit for next weekend's game with Wigan. "We will see where he is at on Monday but we think he will have improved immensely," said Mike Phelan, United's assistant manager.

The New Generation of Villans

Marc Albrighton

Hard-working, locally-born right-sided midfielder who has been connected with Villa since the age of eight. Man of the match on his full Premier League debut on the opening day against West Ham, he has since been sent off against Burnley and scored two goals.

Barry Bannan

Small, feisty midfielder with a lovely left foot, who hails from Airdrie and is in Scotland's squad for the friendly against the Faroes. Gained experience on loan to Derby and Blackpool, as well as playing for Villa in Europe before his first top-flight start against Fulham last Saturday.

Ciaran Clark

Harrow-born central defender who has captained England at various levels up to Under-20 but has now pledged his allegiance to the Republic of Ireland. Showed his versatility by playing in a midfield holding role in this month's derby against Birmingham.

Nathan Delfouneso

Ten days after asking to go out on loan he found himself first-choice striker in midweek due to Villa's injury crisis. Did not start a League game until last weekend but had already scored in the Uefa Cup, Carling Cup, FA Cup and in the League.

Fabian Delph

A £6m Martin O'Neill signing, Delph is sidelined by injury but his blend of fierce tackling and precision passing led Gary McAllister to make him the hub of the Leeds midfield at the age of 18 – and McAllister is now assistant to Gérard Houllier at Villa.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
Clarke Carlisle
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'