After ending November with a shock home loss to Crystal Palace in the Carling Cup quarterfinals, Manchester United will look to open a busy and pivotal December with a win, as they visit Aston Villa this weekend. United are always a popular Premier League betting pick, and they’ll be favored to take the spoils in Saturday’s showdown at Villa Park.

After last Saturday’s controversial 1-1 home draw with Newcastle and City’s 1-1 draw at Liverpool on Sunday, United come into December five points behind City in second. With City facing Chelsea and Arsenal later in the month, the opportunity could be there to close the gap, but with City hosting Norwich City this weekend, United can’t afford to settle for another stalemate.

In last season’s visit to Villa Park, United needed two goals in the last 10 minutes to draw 2-2, but there’s reason to expect United to get three points this time around.

After winning only five away matches all of last season, United have four wins and two draws in six away league matches so far this season, and they’ve conceded only three goals in those six matches.

United are also facing an opponent they’ve dominated in recent history. Villa haven’t won at home against United in the league since August 1995, and in the 31 league meetings since, their only win is a 1-0 win at Old Trafford in December 2009.

One thing that will be noted at least a few times leading up to this weekend and on Saturday will be the fact that this will be Ashley Young’s first match against his former side since his summer move to United, and the Villains certainly look to be missing both Young and Stewart Downing, who also departed this past summer, moving to Liverpool for 20m.

England internationals Gabriel Agbonlahor and Darren Bent both have five league wins, and Agbonlahor has contributed six assists, but there’s been little production elsewhere, as Villa have notched only 16 goals in 13 matches this season.

Not properly replacing their two best playmakers is certainly a big reason why Alex McLeish’s side has had trouble picking up wins thus far. Villa have only three league wins, but they lead the league in draws with seven. It is worth noting that all three of those wins were at home, but it’s also worth noting that they come into their meeting with United with only one win in their last six matches.

Along with failing to hit the back of the net on a consistent basis, defending has also been an issue for Villa. Prior to Sunday’s goalless draw at Swansea, Villa had allowed 12 goals in their previous five matches. Also, three times this season, Villa have given up second-half equalizers in matches that ended in a draw, and they also surrendered an early 1-0 lead in a 2-1 home defeat to Midlands rivals West Brom in October.

This weekend would be a fine time for Young and the United attack to have a big game, especially with a crucial Champions League match at Basel ahead next Wednesday.

United haven’t scored multiple Premier League goals in a game since a 2-0 home win against Norwich City on 1 October, a run of six matches. And after scoring 21 goals in winning their first five league matches this season, United have scored only eight goals in their last eight league matches. Wayne Rooney, while still ranking in the top five in the Premier League scoring charts, hasn’t scored in the league since netting in the 3-1 win over Chelsea in September, and Young hasn’t produced much since his magnificent performance in the 8-2 rout of Arsenal in August.

Injury spells for impressive young talents Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck have hurt United, and Young also had a short spell on the sidelines as well. But with Young now fit again and Welbeck potentially back in action this weekend, United won’t be lacking the firepower to show their class in attack.

In last week’s draws against Benfica and Newcastle, United looked far more threatening in attack than they had been recently, but numerous chances went begging due to poor passes, crosses, and finishes. In fact, in United’s draw with Newcastle, United had an astounding 28 shots on goal, but only seven of those shots were on target. So, things are perhaps headed in the right direction, but United need to start converting more of those numerous chances into goals, starting on Saturday.

Not only do United need to win at Villa to at least keep pace with City, a quality performance – on both ends – will be a major confidence builder heading into United’s most important match of the season.