Date: 21st December 2007 at 10:07am
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Saturday sees the aftermath of the ‘Vital Villa Christmas Bash,’ it also sees the return of Sven to Villa Park as Aston Villa take on a team who have overtaken them in the top four chase stakes. Whilst their form at home has been phenomenal, Sven’s foreign warriors aren’t so great on the road, having not won in seven away league fixtures.

Villa meanwhile have had a torrid time of late, the 4-0 hammering of Blackburn Rovers in late November a distant memory, with defeats at the hands of Arsenal and Pompey, followed by a disappointing draw with relegation candidates Sunderland.

Can Martin O’Neill’s men install some festive cheer to the claret and blue faithful?

Full preview as always here on Vital Villa!

Vital Quotes:

Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg (should that be want away defender?) has insisted that Villa need to avoid defeat on Saturday in order to avoid a similar slump that the club experienced this time last year:

‘It’s important to get a good start in this period,’ said Mellberg. ‘Because there are so many games, you really climb the table if you play well.’

‘We had a bad Christmas and because there are so many games in this period, a bad spell at this time of the year can be costly.

‘Saturday is a big, big game for us and an opportunity to improve the home record. We want to turn the recent home results around.’

Manager Martin O’Neill has been talking this week about how Stiliyan Petrov’s availability this week gives him a selection headache, a selection headache very welcome to the boss. O’Neill also hinted that Togolese surprise signing Moustapha Salifou may be close to a first team call-up:

‘I want competition in the middle of the field. Moustapha Salifou is doing very well and his fitness has improved immensely.

‘He’s done exceptionally well in the reserve team and he won’t be too far away, so that’s encouraging.

‘We also had Isaiah Osbourne back on Saturday and in terms of competition in midfield, there’s competition for places which is encouraging despite the size of the squad.’
‘We’ve been lucky with injuries, but we have four games in quick succession and I’m sure a few players will be used.’

I’m sure a few players will be used as well Martin, try 11 for starters; add 5 substitutes and you’ve got yourself a football team! It may just be cynicism on my part but O’Neill has been the sort of manager who plays “his team” with very little rotation making his quotes of a few players being used seem obscure.

With tough games coming up, can O’Neill afford to risk Osbourne? Personally he hasn’t particularly impressed me when he’s been on the pitch. Few young players I have ever come across have made their big first team break, disappeared back into the reserves for months and managed to make it back!


Turning to Eastlands, former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson has been talking goalkeepers. In a surprise move, the Swede has turned his back on fellow countryman, and national team number 1 Andreas Isaksson in the pecking order. Sven has managed to use 3 goalkeepers this year, including current number 1 Joe Hart and Kasper Schmeichel, the latter now out on loan.

On the #1 shirt decision, Sven said: (‘Well eh’) ‘It was important for everybody that I came up with this decision before the transfer window opens in January.

‘I don’t know what Andreas will do but if he comes back and tells me he wants to go, I will not be surprised and I will understand.’

‘Joe will be my number one for the foreseeable future, which just shows how much belief I have in him,’ said Eriksson.

‘I strongly believe he will be a great goalkeeper. He is only 20 and he will get better and better. He is the England Under-21 keeper and he has a great future.’

At 20 years old Hart may just be challenging the likes of current Villa first choice keeper Scott Carson. Should the Manchester City stopper be able to claim a cross or corner ball, he has a distinct advantage over Carson, who in my opinion hasn’t set the world alight in claret and blue (or in reality, two tone yellow or grey!)

With Manchester City flying surprisingly high, courtesy of a number of high-profile signings, the man behind the money former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has praised the performance of his team, and believes that the impact and subsequent success of his manager may lead to him being offered a long-term deal.

When talking about the man I kind of wish was at Villa now, Mr Shinawatra said: ‘I think Sven can remain our manager until he retires.’

‘I didn’t expect the team would achieve this kind of level. But I did believe when I arrived that Manchester City could improve a lot.

‘And you simply have to hand it to Sven who has done a marvellous job.

‘He is a very good football strategist and he teaches the players well. His motivational ability is another important part of his game.

‘We consider him as a world-class manager. There are not many of them in football but Sven is certainly one of them.’

Aston Villa Team News:

Villa are boosted by the return of Stillyan Petrov who has missed the last two matches with hamstring trouble giving O’Neill the previously mentioned selection headache. Petrov’s injury came at a time where the former Celtic midfielder was enjoying a good run of form, to the point that some Villa fans were even contemplating whether he was finally becoming a good signing for the club.

Curtis Davies is likely to be back on the bench despite breaking his nose last week. The travesty that is this decision may mean that Gary Cahill is left out of the squad despite being available and having impressed just about everyone during his loan stint at Sheffield United.

Thomas Sorensen fans, after the Danish goalkeeper said: ‘Even if the manager personally offered me a new contract, I wouldn’t sign it.’

‘If somebody shows me a contract, I will sign it, no matter what the offer is.’

…I wouldn’t expect him to feature!

My predicted 16: Carson, Bouma, Laursen, Knight, Mellberg, Young, Barry, Reo-Coker, Petrov, Agbonlahor, Carew. Subs: Taylor, Davies, Berger, Gardner, Harewood.

Player to watch: Scott Carson

One of the big ‘pro’ arguments for the signing of Scott Carson on a permanent basis is his shot stopping ability, something he hasn’t shown us yet.

With Manchester City having developed a habit of firing from long range, yet again our £10million-rated keeper will have to be on his toes!

Manchester City Team News:

Good news for Villa as Michael Johnson is a major doubt following surgery on his abdominal injury. Obviously this isn’t good news for Mr Johnson but, it’s great for us.

Stephen Ireland misses out due to suspension, possibly giving Geovanni a rare start in midfield.

Manchester City team (from): Hart, Isaksson, Corluka, Sun, Onuoha, Richards, Dunne, Garrido, Ball, Hamann, Fernandes, Johnson, Geovanni, Petrov, Elano, Bianchi, Vassell, Mpenza, Etuhu.

Player to watch: Elano

Elano is the said long-ranger that will be giving Carson something to think about. The midfield will have to ensure they close him down quickly so that he doesn’t get the opportunity to beat Carson from distance.

Match Facts & Stats

  • Saturday’s fixture will be Aston Villa’s 600th Premier League Fixture.

  • Villa’s first fixture in the Premier League fixture, in the 1992/93 season was a 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town.

  • The Villa team for the fixture: Spink ,Barrett ,Staunton ,Teale ,McGrath ,Richardson (Regis ,54 ) ,Daley ,Parker ,Houghton ,Atkinson ,Froggatt. Subs not used: Ehiogu, Sealey.

  • Villa had to wait for another 3 games (two, 1-1 draws and a loss) for their first EPL victory, Gary Parker scoring both goals as they overcame a Sheffield United that included Brian Deane.

  • A warm welcome goes to Darius Vassell who of course returns to Villa Park once more since his move to Manchester City for peanuts.

  • Only Blackburn Rovers (19) have used fewer players than Aston Villa’s 20. Here’s hoping we use a few more post-January!

  • If Petrov plays, it will be his 50th Villa appearance!

  • As mentioned previously, Man City have a Thai owner. What you didn’t know I’m sure is that the Thai domestic league includes team names such as PAT (Port Authority of Thailand), TOT. (Telephone Organization of Thailand Football Club), and the brilliantly named Tobacco Monopoly FC (Thailand Tobacco Monopoly Football Club.)

    Ref Watch:

    The referee for Aston Villa Vs Manchester City is the mighty Mr Lee Mason!

    Bad luck for red card fans, Mr Mason has only managed 2 in his 16 games, both coming last week as he sent off Chris McCann and former Villa player Joey Gudjonnson in Burnley’s 3-2 defeat to Preston. It should be noted that PJ-wearing goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly also played in this fixture!

    The last time he officiated Villa, we rather embarrassingly crashed out of the League Cup to Martin O’Neill’s former employers, Leicester City.

    Match Prediction:

    Heart says Villa win, I’ll go for a 2-1. Head says we are going to have to work damn hard to get something out of the game at all!

    Next Up:

    Villa go on the road on the 26th December to face a Mourinho-less Chelski.

    Following on from Chelsea, it’s another road trip as Villa fans (including a number of Vital Villa members) descend on the JJB to face Potato Head and his new team 3 days later.