Gerard Houllier says Aston Villa must tighten defence

Gerard Houllier has admitted Aston Villa must start keeping clean sheets if they are to stand any chance of halting the growing concern at their plight.

The Midlands giants are hovering dangerously over the drop zone following yesterday's 4-0 hammering at Manchester City and many fans already feel it is time for a change at the top, despite the fact Houllier has only been in charge for 14 Premier League games.

Only twice during that time have Villa managed to keep the opposition out, on home soil against Chelsea and Birmingham.

And, as Houllier faces up to a re-match with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, he acknowledges the statistic must change.

"The main thing that has to be addressed is we have to keep a clean sheet," said the Frenchman.

"If you keep clean sheets you have a chance to win games.

"We have been guilty of being too naive and too indulgent defensively.

"I am talking about as a team. It is not about just four players, it is the whole team."

Houllier clearly has a huge number of problems to wrestle with, not least his relationship with senior players.

Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland did not even make the trip north yesterday, while the strange case of John Carew, who claimed he was not fit to play after spending two days stuck in Norway due to the recent flight chaos hardly gives off the greatest of signals.

"John Carew would have been in the squad but he came to me and told me he was not fit enough," said Houllier.

"We gave the players two days off after the Wigan game. He went to Norway and got stuck.

"I have to accept the explanation. There was snow everywhere."

Houllier is hoping to make a couple of signings during next month's transfer window, although it is the players who will leave that concern worried Villa fans the most.

For now the former Liverpool chief must prepare a team to face Chelsea and galvanise confidence in a team that has now won just once in its last seven games.

The one piece of good news is that Ashley Young is set to return after a knee injury, although it will take more than the talented winger to restore fortunes.

"We knew it would be a difficult Christmas because we had a difficult run of games," said Houllier.