On August 19, 1995, Aston Villa defeated Manchester United 3-1 on the season's opening day. The result wasn't especially stunning; that was a good Villa team that would go on to finish 4th in the Premier League, while United were at what appeared to be the beginning of a rebuilding phase, with several key first-team players having moved on in the previous summer and numerous academy products being introduced into the first team. United's lone goal that day came as a consolation in the 84th minute, scored by a 23-year-old midfielder named David Beckham, in his 5th Premier League appearance. Following the game, BBC pundit Alan Hansen said of Alex Ferguson's decision to trust in a youth movement that "you'll never win anything with kids."
Alan Hansen was of course famously wrong, as United would win their next five straight and eventually take home the Premier League title. Many players on that United squad would go on to have exceptional careers, while several members of that Villa team are regarded as club legends. United has won the league 11 times since then, while Villa has only a League Cup win to their name. It was also, as you're likely well aware, the last time Aston Villa beat Manchester United at home. It's a rather stunning streak, on the face of it, and given Villa's recent struggles at home it's somewhat comforting to know that there's at least some historical precedent there.
Like most trends in sports, it's not actually predictive. United have been the better of the two clubs every time they've have met these past 18 years, and in many seasons the gap between the sides was enormous. In general, United have been expected to avoid defeat, and they have. There's no magic or cursed mojo at play; it's just the way things of gone. But that doesn't mean this game doesn't feel like a curse for Villa, at least from the fans' perspective. And it likely will until the spell is broken.
So, will this be the year that happens? While United is still a better side than Villa, their struggles haven't exactly flown under the radar; their last win came on the 10th of November, they've lost two in a row, and they currently sit just three points ahead of Villa in 9th place. There is of course a great deal of talent in the side, but there are some real and exploitable holes and they are a team that has pretty consistently underperformed this season. (The other narrative would be that they were overperforming under Alex Ferguson, but it's probably too early to go that far.) United just isn't nearly as scary at the moment as they have been for the last 20+ years and with Villa having shown themselves capable of beating the league's best, there's good reason to like their chances.
United isn't a bad team, and they're almost certainly not going to finish as low in the table as they find themselves now. David Moyes may not be Alex Ferguson, but he's not a bumbling fool either; he'll find a way to get more out of the talent he has. But at the moment, it's undeniable that United is stumbling and trying to find their way. A more cynical-and entirely defensible, to be fair-outlook would be that Villa's exactly the kind of team that can allow them to do just that. But while I'm not typically one to feel especially optimistic about Villa's chances to seize opportunities, this game feels different. Maybe it's that United no longer seems invincible, and that's lead to me overestimating their vulnerability. But it finally feels as though maybe Villa's got a real shot at putting an end to this run of futility.