Heskey and Berbatov both missing for OT clash
Both Manchester United and Aston Villa will be without first choice strikers ahead of Sunday's meeting at Old Trafford following the confirmation that both Dimitar Berbatov and Emile Heskey are facing two weeks out with injury.
United striker Berbatov has been ruled out for two weeks with an ankle injury, while Villa front man Heskey is expected to be missing for the same period with a hamstring problem.
Sunday's match is crucial for both sides as United will be looking to re-assert their dominance in the title race. Indeed, should Liverpool avoid defeat at Fulham on Saturday United could find themselves knocked off the top of the table ahead of the game. Meanwhile Villa are desperate to claw back lost ground on Arsenal in the race for fourth position and a Champions League qualifying place.
United's Bulgarian striker suffered his injury during the 2-0 Premier League defeat at Fulham two weeks ago. The 28-year-old subsequently pulled out of his country's World Cup qualifying double-header against the Republic of Ireland and Cyprus.
Villa manager Martin O'Neill believes Heskey could be absent for up to a fortnight after picking up a hamstring injury while on England duty against Slovakia at Wembley last Saturday.
It is the second time O'Neill has been deprived of Heskey's services because of an injury sustained playing for his country. The former Wigan Athletic player aggravated an Achilles problem during February's friendly international with Spain.
That caused the striker to miss the FA Cup clash at Everton and the UEFA Cup tie with CSKA Moscow and resulted in O'Neill hitting out at England boss Fabio Capello for playing Heskey after he had limped out of Villa's previous game against Blackburn Rovers.
''I haven't a problem with this one because it is two separate situations,'' said O'Neill. ''This is a different scenario where someone goes away properly fit and just picks up an injury that can happen anytime. That can't be helped. It is a blow but it is one of those things.
''In fairness, the rest of the players who went away on international duty are fit so, in terms of percentages, we are probably not too badly off.''
Regarding Berbatov's injury, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson said: ''It's probably going to be another two weeks. Hopefully he will be back training with us at the end of next week and he will be okay after that.''
It leaves Ferguson with a major selection headache as Wayne Rooney is also out through suspension, as are Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic. In addition, Carlos Tevez is not due back from South America until Friday afternoon following Argentina's surprising six-goal defeat in Bolivia.
''I think he gets back from Mars about 4pm,'' joked Ferguson. ''With Dimitar out and Wayne suspended hopefully Carlos will be okay. That will give us one striker, then we will have to choose another.''
Should Berbatov's prognosis prove correct, the 28-year-old will also be unavailable for both legs of United's Champions League quarter-final against Porto and the league trip to Sunderland.