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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

Everton
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By ESPN Staff

O'Neill to prioritise league over UEFA Cup

Martin O'Neill has hinted he may have to sacrifice Aston Villa's bid for UEFA Cup glory to ensure they stay on course to achieve a Champions League spot.

The Villa boss is contemplating making changes for Thursday's UEFA Cup last-32 second-leg clash away to CSKA Moscow after the first leg ended in a 1-1 draw.

O'Neill admitted his side looked jaded during Saturday's 1-0 home reversal by Chelsea in the Premier League - their third game in six days.

Villa have one of the smallest squads in the Premier League especially compared to the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal - their rivals for a Champions League place.

And they face the same schedule with a home game with Stoke on Sunday and a visit to Manchester City the following Wednesday after the match in Russia.

O'Neill left out most of his big name players for Villa's previous away game in Europe at Hamburg, although they had already qualified for the knockout stages.

''The irony of it all is that we spent all last year breaking our necks to get into the UEFA Cup. We started in July in the Intertoto just to get into it,'' O'Neill said.

''Now we are in the final 32 and we are maybe having second or third looks at it.

''I have to try and please Villa fans and I think they would look at that and think the Premier League, which can eventually drive you into the Champions League, is the Holy Grail.

''It seems strange we are in that position. Had we been seventh, eighth, 10th in the league, it might have been a different outlook.

''Football has changed and chasing a top-four place in the Premier League, to get you into the Champions League, is everything.''

O'Neill added: ''We left a few behind for the Hamburg trip but the difference was we had already qualified. I will have a look and see where we are.

''I'll have a look at in on Monday and see where we go. We have made all this effort to get into the UEFA Cup in the first place. We are there but I knew these things (the schedule) were coming up.''

Chelsea began the Guus Hiddink era by leapfrogging Villa into third spot in the Premier League but O'Neill is adamant the self belief in his squad has not been shaken by the reversal.

He said: ''It is a setback but we are far from finished. That is the thing I told the players. We have got some real quality players in the team.

''There is no dent in belief. No dent whatsoever. There will be another day and we are still in there fighting.

''Sometimes you can read an incredible amount into a game just because of the result. I don't see it like that. It is a disappointment.

''But it is sign of the progress we have made that maybe now fourth place is seen as a disappointment.''

Stand-in skipper Gareth Barry insisted he is fresh for the demanding end to the campaign.

The England midfielder said: ''The manager has rotated quite well. I've missed a few of the UEFA Cup games and I've had a suspension so personally I feel fresh.

''I'm looking forward to the games which are coming thick and fast and I certainly don't feel tired.''

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