Sat, Nov 11, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Villa boss praises Chelsea

AFP , LONDON

Manchester United will have to hold off the strongest team in Europe if they are to reclaim the Premiership title from Chelsea this season, according to Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill.

United head for Blackburn today bolstered by a three-point advantage over Chelsea at the top of the table and there is mounting optimism around Old Trafford about their chances of keeping their noses in front of Jose Mourinho's men for the rest of the season.

But O'Neill believes Chelsea's raw power, epitomized by the lung-bursting runs Michael Essien can produce in the final minutes of matches, will take some resisting over the course of a full season.

The former Celtic boss saw his new charges at Villa overwhelmed by Chelsea in a 4-0 League Cup defeat in midweek and did not hesitate to offer praise for the champions' blend of technical quality and physique.

"They are the strongest team in European football but they have also got a lot of class players," he said.

O'Neill added: "One of the best sides that didn't win the World Cup back in 1982 were Brazil. Italy won it but Brazil were the best side by miles. The Brazilian players were so, so good and strong as well. There is nothing wrong with that, absolutely."

Villa were unfortunate enough to be caught in the backlash from Chelsea's controversial defeat by Tottenham last weekend, their second loss of the season in the league.

Mourinho's men will look to continue the recovery process against struggling Watford, although the Premiership newcomers will have a skip in their step after winning for the first time this season against Middlesbrough last weekend.

United and Chelsea's strong starts to the campaign have piled the pressure on Arsenal and Liverpool to the extent that neither club can afford to lose tomorrow's meeting between them at the Emirates Stadium and still expect to be regarded as credible title challenges.

"It is a must-win game," admitted Arsenal forward Emmanuel Adebayor. "If you hope to win the Premiership, every one is important but this weekend even more so. We know that Liverpool are a good team, but we have got our confidence back and know we can score at any moment because we have such a lot of good players."

"Manchester United being so far ahead is a problem and maybe we have had a bit of a poor start, but we know we can catch them," he added.

Tomorrow's match will see Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt reunited with former Feyenoord team-mate Robin van Persie, who has established himself as one of Arsenal's first choice stars.

"It is good to see Robin doing well at Arsenal, but I always knew that would work for him," said Kuyt. "He is maturing as a person and a player."

Friendship will be put to one side however as Kuyt and his Liverpool team-mates seek to build on their recent recovery in form.

"After four home wins and the League Cup victory [against Birmingham] we have lots more confidence now," added Kuyt. "But we can still produce more."

"I know there is still a big gap between us and the top sides. But if we can win at Arsenal then things will start to change for us," Kuyt said.

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