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

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The Independent Football

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.