Prague point essential

By Tom Vickers
Last updated : 06 November 2008
By Eoin Manning

Aston Villa head for the Czech capital on Thursday evening where they will take on Slavia Prague in their second group game in this year's UEFA Cup.

In what will amazingly be Villa's 20th competitive game this season Martin O'Neill has spoken of his intention to rotate his team.

With every point so vital in the four game group stage such a tactic may prove costly against a side who represent very formidable opposition.

Leading their domestic league, the Gambrinus Liga, Prague boast players of a high calibre including former Liverpool player and Champions League winner Vladimír Šmicer.

Interestingly, Slavia qualified for last year's Champions League following a 3-1 aggregate victory over Ajax, a side who showed their obvious worth at Villa Park a fortnight ago.

Though they were resoundingly beaten 7-0 at the Emirates Stadium by Arsenal several weeks later, they are a club who should not be underestimated particularly on their home patch.

Villa, who find themselves deflated and somewhat depleted following Monday evening's surprise 2-0 defeat to Newcastle at St. James's Park, will need to recover as they attempt to repeat the heroics of the Ajax game two weeks ago.

Stiliyan Petrov, who was unavailable for the Newcastle game due to injury has not travelled to the Czech Republic and James Milner is also absent after picking up a knock in that game.

Class

Marlon Harewood stayed at home to celebrate the birth of his child yesterday, while Isaiah Osbourne and Wilfred Bouma are long term casualties.

Other than the aforementioned players O'Neill has taken his strongest players and the likes of Steve Sidwell, Craig Gardner and undoubtedly Curtis Davies will be very anxious to make their mark if selected to start.

Davies is a player of obvious class and ability and seemed have sewn up the position of playing alongside captain Martin Laursen at the heart of the Villa defence.

However, following his half-time substitution against Chelsea he has only started one game since, with O'Neill instead opting to play the more robust Carlos Cuellar alongside Laursen.

With Milner absent Ashley Young, who seems to play every game, will most likely again be a starter.

The fleet of foot trickster should be on a high having signed a deal to keep him at the club until 2012 this week. Young will be hoping to make his mark on European nights like these for years to come.

A positive result in Prague should mean that Villa can secure qualification for the knock out stages on December 4th when Slovakian side Zilina come to town.

Let the latest European adventure commence.

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