Aston Villa's struggles at home against Manchester United have been going on for so long that it's gone through the cycle of frustration-amusement-numbness-frustration several times by now. It's been very nearly 20 years since the Claret and Blue have defeated the Red Devils in league competition at Villa Park, a time that's spanned storied careers and many distinct eras in each club's recent history. It's been a hell of a long time, and it's one of the more one-sided fixtures in the history of the Premier League.
The reasons aren't particularly hard to figure out, of course; over that time, Manchester United have ranged from very good to best team in the world. Villa have ranged from not quite as good as Manchester United to offensively bad. You would expect Manchester United to win nearly every encounter between the two on the day of the match. But you wouldn't expect United to go 18 years without a loss in the same fixture, because sometimes teams win games against teams that are better than them. That's kind of been Aston Villa's thing the past couple of years, in fact.
United run of success at Villa Park isn't a freakish statistical anomaly or anything of that nature, but it's still notable. It certainly has a lot more to do with luck and narrative and random chance than any sort of voodoo magic several generations of United teams have held over several generations of Villa teams. But that doesn't mean it doesn't feel that way, and it definitely doesn't mean it won't feel absolutely incredible once Villa actually do manage to win against United at Villa Park. If you can't intellectually acknowledge that most of the patterns we see in sports aren't really all that predictive of anything while still suspending your sense of disbelief and buying into the narrative, well, what good are sports?
Villa probably won't beat United today. The Red Devils aren't as good as they've been at their best and they've got a fair amount of work to do before they can be realistically considered to be one of the world's best teams - which, for a club of United's stature, should always be the aim - but they're certainly a hell of a lot better than Aston Villa. They're also beginning to get healthy and show what they're capable of at full strength, as their six-match winning streak would seem to indicate. It's fun to see the giants stumble, and it's certainly fair to hold United to the standards they've set for themselves, but "less good than a United team should be" is not exactly the same as "team you think Aston Villa have a reasonable shot at beating.
Eventually though, it's going to happen. And when it does happen, it's almost certainly going to come as a surprise, because it's hard to see Villa fielding a better team than United at any point in the near future. And it could happen today, and if it does it's going to be amazing. In a strange way, Villa-United is my most-anticipated game of the season; the expectations are so so low and the potential emotional payoff is so so high. And with a team like Villa - especially this incarnation of Villa - you've got to take what you can get.