Martin O'Neill was prepared for doubts about the strength of his Aston Villa side to surface at the first sign of failure. The second half of the season is where they have faltered in the past and their hopes have faded. It is the reason why their manager has generally tried to play down expectations of the title or a top-four place.
Their 3-0 defeat at Arsenal on Sunday has led to more questions about their credentials, but O'Neill said: "I'm not to bothered about who says what. I didn't get too carried away when we went to Old Trafford and won against Manchester United. "Any side can come to Arsenal and get beat so I wouldn't say the result was a major shock all over Europe." Another loss to Liverpool tonight will be significant, though. Like Villa, the Reds too should not yet be dismissed from the end-of-season shake-up.
Richard Dunne, the Villa defender, said the fact Rafa Benitez's side are out of the Champions League will make them an even greater threat after their difficult start. "I'm sure they will come back strong because they have a very good squad," he added. "Come the end of the season we know they will always be there or thereabouts. For them to go from second last season is a bit of a dip, but now they are out of the Champions League, they can maybe increase the pressure in the second half of the season."
Dunne is confident Villa can do the same. They will miss the pace of the suspended Ashley Young tonight, but the Irishman added: "We can't let this Arsenal result set us back. There are so many teams who are losing games and then a couple of weeks later are back in it. The manager just told us the main thing is how we react to defeats." Having not lost in the league since 1998 at Villa Park, Liverpool will at least have history on their side tonight. The match will be Alberto Aquilani's first visit to Villa's home and he is eager to continue his education in English football. The Italian showed glimpses of his quality in the 2-0 win over Wolves and said: "It was so different to anything I have experienced, as it was so quick and you never really had much time. The football we played was so fast. It is crucial to take things step by step, but our aim is now to win three, four and five games in a row."
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Aston Villa v Liverpool, KO 11.45pm, Showsports 1&2