Unai Emery believes Aston Villa and Manchester United will do battle for a top-four spot on Sunday both in “different moments” to when they met earlier in the season.
Emery celebrated his first game as Villa manager in November with a memorable 3-1 Premier League home win over Erik ten Hag’s side.
United exacted revenge four days later with a Carabao Cup victory at Old Trafford, the Red Devils going on to win the competition and lift their first trophy for six years.
The two sides meet again nearly six months on with Emery having transformed Villa from relegation candidates to Champions League outsiders, six points behind fourth-placed United who have two games in hand on their Midlands rivals.
Emery said: “For us, it’s a very good challenge, it will be a very different match on Sunday to when we played at home when I arrived here.
“Very different match to when we played in the Carabao Cup there and lost 4-2.
“Now is a different moment for them and for us. But, as well, it will be very difficult for us.
“I think we can face the match, we can be very demanding trying in the 90 minutes to get our best performance. And if we do it, we can have chances to take some points.”
Villa have climbed to sixth after a 10-game unbeaten run that has seen them collect 26 points.
United’s run of three successive league wins was brought to an end by Thursday’s 2-2 draw at Tottenham, which saw them give up a two-goal interval lead.
Emery said: “Of course, they have good players individually and collectively.
“This year they are in the top four, like usually Manchester United have to do.
“They won the Carabao Cup final and they are going to play in the FA Cup final – it’s a very good season for them, only to leave from the Europa League. I think they are having a very good season.”
Emery believes playing in the Europa League or Europa Conference League next season is a more realistic prospect than qualifying for the Champions League through a top-four finish.
Villa have a tough run-in after visiting Old Trafford with games against Wolves and fellow European hopefuls Tottenham, Liverpool and Brighton.
“I like to play matches like we are playing now,” Emery said. “I think this is the best moment you can have.
“We have to be very focused. I like to play under pressure because, for me, it’s not negative pressure, it’s positive pressure.
“I’m not thinking ‘if I will win’ or ‘if I will lose’. I’m thinking, ‘I want to play’, because in this moment we are really playing for something important.”