Football: Villa's Continental battle

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The Independent Online
ASTON VILLA take on Chelsea tonight in the Worthington Cup in a match that has been dubbed England v The Rest of the World.

Villa will field 11 Englishmen at Stamford Bridge against a Chelsea side that is packed with foreign players. Villa's England under-21 international midfielder Lee Hendrie admits that the two teams could not be more different.

"There couldn't be a bigger contrast between the two sides. Chelsea are the ultimate example of Continental football in Britain," Hendrie said. "But that won't stop us going there with nothing less than the thought of victory on our mind."

Three of Villa's internationals, Gareth Southgate, Paul Merson and Mark Bosnich, will be missing from the game against the holders at Stamford Bridge, while for Chelsea Dan Petrescu is hoping to return after missing their 0-0 draw at Leeds on Sunday.

Bosnich is still injured but John Gregory, the Villa manager, is taking the opportunity to rest the other two players. Gregory is concerned about Villa's heavy fixture programme and feels he needs to shuffle his side to enable some of his players to conserve their energy.

"We have only played 11 weeks this season and Southgate has already appeared in 16 games. During this period he has also been involved in 10 days of intensive training with England," Gregory said. "With so much at stake I have to look at all my options. The Worthington Cup, so far as I am concerned, is fourth in my list of priorities."

Steve Watson, Villa's recent signing form Newcastle, will make his debut and Mark Draper, Julian Joachim, and Riccardo Scimeca are all also likely to start the game.

Meanwhile, Gregory said that Blackburn's possible purchase of Dion Dublin from Coventry would not spark fresh interest in moving for Chris Sutton. Gregory has already made two attempts to acquire the striker. "Dublin's signing for Blackburn would undoubtedly mean that they would want a great deal more than a few weeks ago," he said.

The Villa manager does, however, have in the region of pounds 20m available for strengthening his squad following the recent departures of Dwight Yorke and Savo Milosevic.

David Sheepshanks, the Football League chairman, yesterday gave the green light for Premiership sides to play reserve players in this season's Worthington Cup.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have provoked controversy in previous seasons by resting players, but now the League are happy to allow sides to rotate their squads.

"Last season the Football League board recognised the importance of a squad system for the leading clubs. This season, in the Premier League and Uefa Cup, we have already seen the rotation and resting of players," Sheepshanks said. "We will continue to recognise this system for clubs fortunate enough to have such strength in depth."

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