Villa need to embrace relegation
Paul Lambert has urged his Aston Villa players to embrace the challenge of the Premier League survival battle - and not be daunted by it.
Villa slipped back into the bottom three with their defeat at Arsenal last weekend and will see at least one of their rivals pick points up on them before they themselves go into their home clash with champions Manchester City on Monday night.
Southampton face QPR today in a game Villa will monitor with interest but Lambert insists his young squad must see the bigger picture and relish the scrap.
"You can't go into any game being frightened," he said. "I don't think we go into any game scared of anyone. Take the challenge on. We know what a good side City are but don't set up your stall thinking you're going to get beaten.
"I'm pretty sure someone at Southampton was asked all these questions recently (and they beat City). We have to go in as if we can win. We're playing well enough to cause them problems.
"We should have got at least a draw at Arsenal. The disappointment afterwards was very evident. But I've never had a problem lifting the players and this week they have been really good in training. There's no point playing Man City if we're only thinking of the Reading and QPR games coming up soon after them.
"The table is so tight and so open. There always seem to be one or two twists….things always happen. It's going to be one hell of a ride, that's for sure."
City did the double over Villa last season on their way to winning the title for the first time in 44 years but Lambert believes Monday's visitors are playing for no more than second place this time.
And his side have the encouragement of having beaten Roberto Mancini's team in the Capital One Cup and run them much closer in the League game at the Etihad Stadium in mid-November than the 5-0 scoreline would suggest.
"They are a top, top side – look at the players they have," he added. "It's just that Manchester United have a big lead this season and the way they are playing, I don't think they will throw it away for the second year in a row.
"The penalty in the League game was a farce. We were in the game at 1-0 and had already beaten them in the cup."
Lambert, having insisted he is relaxed about the on-going contract talks with Andreas Weimann, is also keeping cool on the future of Villa's man of the season Christian Benteke.
The Belgian's 15 goals have kept the club in with a fighting chance of staying up – as well as firing them into the Capital One Cup semi-finals – and all the signs are that he will attract interest from bigger clubs.
That's especially true if the Midlands' flagship club are relegated, although the manager is undecided whether bids will come in.
"It's a hard one to say because he has only been here for a few months, less than a year," he said. "I don't know whether people will say: 'Let's see how he does next year.' Or do they go: 'We'll take a chance.'
"I can't stop clubs from trying to make a bid for him but the fact is that the big lad has three years left, he's only 22, and he has been playing well. It's not something I worry about, whether he's going to be here. I know he has been playing well."
Villa, whose next goal will be their 1,000th in the Premier League, will delay a decision on whether central defender Ron Vlaar is fit, but have former City keeper Shay Given fit following a groin problem. Darren Bent is still troubled by a foot injury.