Martin O’Neill has spoken of his utmost respect for Sunday's Premier League opponents, insisting Chelsea's incredible unbeaten home league run of 85 matches is something he will never see again in his lifetime.
O’Neill’s Aston Villa charges visit Stamford Bridge knowing that run is there for the taking but he also knows, while his side have the confidence and the momentum from recent results to smash that statistic, he will not get carried away with the notion.
Villa go into the game with a fully fit squad save for midfielder Steve Sidwell, who though back in training again, is not quite up to match fitness for this encounter against his former side. O’Neill’s men also have the midweek jubilation of reaching the group stages of the Uefa Cup and are unbeaten in their last three Premier League outings.
O’Neill said: “I have the utmost regard for that club (Chelsea) because they treat every competition with respect. They go full-bloodedly at the Carling Cup. They go at it like it is the Champions League, more so than anyone else. That’s not something that Scolari started. That’s from Jose Mourinho’s time but it is continuing.
“Scolari is trying to learn the language. He’s a big winner. He’s won the World Cup with Brazil. People might say, ‘It’s Brazil and you are bound to have a chance of winning it with them.’ I’m sorry, I go the other way. I think the expectation level is collosal.
“He managed that. He managed great players. He deserves all the accolades that are thrown onto him. He has been very impressive. He’s kept it going. He’s a big character. Chelsea in the last four or five years have been remarkable. “
O’Neill is hugely respectful of Chelsea’s record. He said; “It is a remarkable record. If and when it’s broken, I don’t think it will be repeated in my lifetime. In this day and age when you are having to play the number of games that they do, with the pace you are playing, big European games, Premier League ... we have gone as close as anyone with that 4-4 draw last season.
“We’ll go with plenty of confidence. But confidence and self-belief in themselves might not be enough. You have to go and compete, get a wee bit of luck. We are going in with confidence.”
O’Neill had two aims this season - to break into the league’s top four and to secure European football and with Villa currently in third place and now through to the group stages of the Uefa cup, he is sailing on a perfect course. But he is also not letting the fact Villa could go top with a win over Chelsea faze him.
He said: “There are so many obstacles to getting into the top four and staying there. Manchester United - for one are one of the great sides in world football. Arsenal have a record which stands the closest scrutiny over the last 12 years. Liverpool have spent money every single season and have fallen short. If Liverpool are falling short in the last number of years, that shows you how difficult it is.
“Now look at Manchester City. They might be an incredible turnaround in the way football is going. We will only know that in January. If they have the capabilities of buying the very best. That could be a big worry for the top four. My own belief is that this club itself has the history and tradition behind it to accommodate that. Why shouldn’t it have a lofty ambition, even if it is not well-founded?”
O’Neill knows Villa is a club packed with supporters who remember the great days and the heady nights of that 1982 European Cup win and believes the fans deserve more of the same. He said: “Some people around here will tell you this club has a fantastic history, it’s always been a very big club.
“It has had a few rocky times but now is an opportunity to fight back. It’s commendable. The owner (Randy Lerner) has ambition for this club. The crowd are responding to that. In time we have brought some decent players to the club and that has given us a bit of a lift.
“Yes we have won a couple of matches, and there’s plenty of expectation around here but now we have to match that. It’s a long season. “
O’Neill knows if Villa could break Chelsea’s record and their hearts tomorrow it would make world headlines. He said: “I’’m sure Chelsea have heard this all before. Every time they defend their record there is someone out there who thinks they can be the ones to break it.
“I’ll not dispute the fact that we are going into the game with as much self-belief and confidence as we have had in my time here. We might get beaten. I’m hoping that not all conclusions that will be drawn from the result of the game are accurate. If we are able to win, we won’t suddenly turn into title contenders. That won’t happen.
“By the same token, and I’m not being conservative, if we are beaten, it doesn’t mean we are not good enough to cope. It does take time, I wouldn’t want to judge a whole season on this.
“We said against Liverpool when we drew that that was a barometer. But if you go to Stamford Bridge full of confidence, then Chelsea have problems...”