Gerard Houllier has raised the prospect of restoring the working relationship with Michael Owen which yielded such results at Anfield, with a January move to Villa Park seemingly not out of the question.
Though Sir Alex Ferguson will pay no heed to Owen's frustrations on the bench unless he feels Manchester United can do without the 30-year-old, Houllier said he has monitored him ever since both men left Anfield in 2004.
"Michael has always been in my thoughts," Houllier told Canal+. "I like him as a player and a man. I went to Liverpool on 4 September for Jamie Carragher's testimonial and I saw Michael play a half of football. He still has the legs for it."
Houllier's comments do not constitute a declaration of intent – he was responding to a question about Owen when summarising for the French broadcaster – and Gabriel Agbonlahor has scored twice as many league goals as Owen over the past four seasons.
But the potentially cheap price – Owen could conceivably leave for a minimal fee, having arrived on a free – may appeal to Villa's proprietor Randy Lerner. The Manchester United player's comments this week about his frustrating lack of first-team action at Old Trafford will resound with the new Villa manager. Houllier told The Independent last year ahead of Owen's return to Anfield with United that above all the striker "loves to play" and simply "likes the game more than anything else".
Houllier did not dismiss in that interview the notion that Owen – yet to make a competitive start for United this season – had lost a little of the pace he displayed when the two men were together at Anfield, but said that was beside the point. "Pace is one thing but game intelligence can play a part as well," Houllier said. "If [Owen] does not have 100 per cent the same pace, he has the experience to give and receive the final pass and is better in giving and receiving the final pass."
Owen completed his first United season with a commendable nine goals but, with Javier Hernandez having arrived this summer to go ahead of him in the pecking order and Dimitar Berbatov displaying new-found levels of energy and consistency, Owen's prospects of a substantial role – or indeed a place in the United starting XI when Liverpool arrive on Sunday – are more limited. "It sounds easy, but probably the most difficult thing is not playing for a couple of weeks and then all of a sudden getting called up and being mentally and physically right to perform well," he said this week. "At the end of the season, I'll look and think, 'Was I happy with the amount of games I was available for? Did I score enough goals in the games when I played?' and, 'Did I play well enough in those games?'"
Houllier also indicated that he is interested in hiring Robert Duverne, the man who was involved in an infamous bust-up with captain Patrice Evra during France's ill-fated stint at the World Cupnin South Africa, as fitness coach at Villa. Duverne, 43, worked under Houllier during his successful spell in charge of Lyons between 2005-07, when they won back-to-back titles and quit as assistant coach of Ligue 1 club Arles-Avignon this week. "He has resigned, so it interests me," Houllier said.
Darren Fletcher, meanwhile, is certain Liverpool will not come to Old Trafford with the same safety-first attitude Rangers used to such smothering effect earlier this week.
That Liverpool have now gone 20 years without a title and are trying to rebuild under Roy Hodgson has not lessened United's desire for victory, a need made all the more acute because of disappointing away draws at Fulham and Everton. Paul Scholes is virtually certain to return, which should at least provide the United midfield with some of the inventiveness it was lacking on Tuesday night.
"Liverpool's history will not allow them to put nine men behind the ball," Fletcher said. "That is not their style."