Many believe that the title will be decided by the Atkinsons - by Ron's brains and Dalian's stomach. Despite last weekend's fluid performance which overpowered Ipswich Town, Villa have stuttered without the England B forward, who has missed eight matches with a gut- muscle injury.
'There's still a third of the season to go and I'll be trying to make up for lost time,' Dalian Atkinson said. 'I tried to come back too early, initially against Manchester City, which made things worse.'
Villa have forsaken one chance this week in London to go two points clear of an inactive United. Wednesday night's defeat at Crystal Palace, their second reverse at Selhurst Park in a week, confirmed a worrying frailty on the road. Ron Atkinson called yesterday for a bit 'more agression in the box'; he should get it if his muscular namesake plays.
Chelsea, whose season looked so bright before the engulfing gloom of winter, have not won for 11 games but can take heart from the memory of a stirring success at Villa Park earlier in the season.
Liverpool, who drew with Chelsea in midweek, visit a revitalised Southampton, winners of their last three home games. John Barnes, the recipient of 'cuddles' from Graham Taylor and harsh words from Graeme Souness in recent days, has a chance to show both managers that he is in the right frame of mind to turn on the style for England and Liverpool.
Taylor has promised to 'look after' talented players but, like Souness, is keen for Barnes to remain involved. The Saints possess their own gifted drifter in Matt Le Tissier and the comparison between the pair - provided the Channel Islander recovers from a bruised foot - should provide a fascinating sub-text to the main script-line of winning points.
Rarely at this stage of the season can the FA Cup holders (Liverpool) and the League champions (Leeds) have been concentrating solely on mid-table anonymity. Howard Wilkinson includes Rob Bowman, the 17-year-old defender who caught the eye against Manchester United on Monday, for the visit to Elland Road of struggling Oldham Athletic. Wilkinson said Bowman 'stood up to the occasion against Manchester United very well. He used the ball intelligently and was very composed.'
With crucial points at stake for two low-lying clubs, intelligence and composure could be at a premium today.
The cost of policing matches in Britain is moving towards the pounds 10m mark with Luton topping the bill. The First division club paid Bedfordshire constabulary pounds 1.10 per person per game for matches at Kenilworth Road last season.
Real Zaragoza were told by the governing body of European football, Uefa, yesterday that they must play their next two European home ties at least 200 miles away from home rather than behind closed doors at their stadium, as originally decided. The punishment was for crowd disorder.Reuse content