O'Neill defends Moscow selection

Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill has defended his decision to axe virtually all of his stars ahead of tomorrow's UEFA Cup return with CSKA Moscow.

O'Neill flew out yesterday with virtually a reserve squad, with Zat Knight, Curtis Davies and Luke Young the only survivors from those who started in Saturday's 1-0 defeat at home to Chelsea.

O'Neill made it clear after that game, and in the wake of the last-32 first-leg draw with Moscow last Wednesday, he was prepared to make changes.

With Villa's hopes of clinching a Champions League place through the Barclays Premier League on the line, O'Neill has made it abundantly clear where his priorities lie, with the UEFA Cup a sideshow to the main event.

That is despite all the hard work the players put in last season in qualifying for Europe via the Intertoto Cup, and in particular this season having started that competition in mid-July.

But with two vital Barclays Premier League games with Stoke and Manchester City to follow in the space of six days, O'Neill felt he had no choice but to leave at home his big guns.

Watching from home will be Gareth Barry, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Brad Friedel, James Milner, Carlos Cuellar, Stiliyan Petrov, Emile Heskey and Nigel Reo-Coker.

If you throw in the injured Martin Laursen and Wilfred Bouma, those players would constitute the make up of any Villa starting XI.

But a defiant O'Neill said: "Although it was a difficult decision, we have to trust the players who are going.

"I think it's a great opportunity for some of the younger lads in the side, which is terrific.

"We're not going to be defeatist. We are going there to try and get through.

"But we've just had three games in six days and we looked a bit leggy to begin with against Chelsea.

"We need the players to try and stay as fresh as we possibly can, so that was the decision we made.

"We come back to Stoke on Sunday and are at it again on Wednesday night (against Manchester City), and that was going to be hard.

"It's a pretty hectic schedule, and it was a difficult call.

"But the chairman has entrusted me with the decisions, and I believe what we're doing is for the well being of the football club."

Speaking prior to O'Neill making his decision, Barry can appreciate the Irishman's philosophy, as he said: "It's always a difficult one, especially for the manager.

"If you're looking at the game with Stoke on Sunday as the priority then it might be vital a few players do get a rest.

"Last Wednesday's game (with CSKA) maybe caught up with us because we had a tough game against Chelsea (Saturday's 1-0 defeat)."

Winger Milner still believes Villa can make it through to the last 16, despite the inexperience of the squad.

"It's obviously the manager's decision," stated Milner.

"Whatever team we put out, it will be good enough to get a result because we've a squad of quality players, even if it might not be the biggest.

"We know they (CSKA) are a good team, but we've a lot of good players as well, not just the 11 that played against Chelsea."

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