Martin O’Neill has told of his delight in the way Brad Friedel has adapted to life at Aston Villa as the 37-year-old goalkeeper prepares to line up against his former club, Blackburn Rovers, on Wednesday night.
Friedel was at Ewood Park for eight years before joining O’Neill’s Villa Park revolution in the summer and has been a virtual ever-present since. O’Neill said he was delighted to have such an exceptional keeper at his disposal.
He said: “Brad has been quite an exceptional goalkeeper for a number of those eight years he was at Blackburn.
“I think he has got better with age - a bit like David James. He is 37 now and yet his age doesn’t really concern me. He was as good a goalkeeper as there was in the Premier League last season when I was looking and I thought his experience and his general know-how would help us immensely.”
Friedel is enjoying a rich vein of form with the defensive pairing of Martin Laursen and Carlos Cuellar, supported by full backs Nicky Shorey and Luke Young and kept a clean sheet in Villa’s 4-0 demolition of Wigan Athletic at the JJB Stadium on Sunday.
O’Neill said: “Brad is an interesting man and has his head well screwed on. He is a really good goalkeeper. He is brave and he has adapted to everything. He is capable of playing in the Premier League for a long time to come. Brad works incredibly hard on his fitness and works incredibly hard for the team “
The Villa boss has a virtually fully fit squad available for the Villa Park clash although Gareth Barry is a doubt after limping off in the 53rd minute of Sunday’s victory which elevated Villa back into fifth place, ahead of Manchester United.
Barry was a noticable absentee from the open training session at Villa Park which attracted between 4,000 and 5,000 fans eager to get a look at their heroes during the school half-term break.
O’Neill said: “Barry is making good progress but he is still in a bit of discomfort. He will want to play but we will have to see whether there is any chance of that due to bruising and a cut on the bridge of his foot.”
Otherwise the manager is convinced his team are in a good frame of mind and coping well with their heavy schedule of league and European fixtures. He said: “They are all in good spirits. They trained in front of the parents and kids at Villa Park and that all went okay.
“This is our third game in six days but I think if you are winning your games and playing confidently, it is easier. In terms of competition for places, it would probably be the strongest now in my two years here.
“I am not saying we have competition for places like clubs like Liverpool or Chelsea or Arsenal but, from our own viewpoint, we are getting stronger.
“We are in the situation now where people are not absolutely certain of playing but I have said to the players that all of them will get used in the next few weeks because we gave some tough games. We play tonight then Monday night at Newcastle and then fly off to Prague for a difficult Uefa Cup game. It will catch up with you. By Christmas, we will have played a number of matches that we would not have played last year. "