Martin O'Neill has insisted he would have "no qualms" about continuing to play Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg for the remainder of the season - even if he signed a pre-contract agreement with Juventus.

Juventus sporting director Alessio Secco has confirmed the Sweden international, who has been at Villa for six and a half years, "is close to signing a preliminary agreement".

Secco said: "If everything goes well, the player will become a Juve player in July. There are still some minor things left to discuss."

But that would not stop O'Neill picking Mellberg whose current deal with the club expires in the summer. The 30-year-old has solved a defensive headache for O'Neill by uncomplainingly switching from central defender to right-back for the majority of the campaign.

O'Neill said: "Olof's commitment has been excellent and, even if he decides to go in the summer or signs a pre-contract, I would have no qualms about continuing to play him. This boy [Mellberg] has played nearly seven years for Villa and is a top professional.

"I recognise this is a very important time of his career. When you get clubs the size of Juventus making enquiries about you then you have to weigh things up. But I'd be quite happy to play him if he signs a pre-contract. He is well aware he is in his last season of his current contract but the total commitment to the cause is there every single week.

"I have genuinely appreciated the efforts he has put in. I asked him to play right-back for us and he has gone into the role willingly and has never complained to me."

O'Neill will attempt during the next week to bring in new blood as injuries and suspensions start to take their toll on his small squad.

Winger Ashley Young will have to serve a one-match ban, after being cautioned for a fifth time this season in Monday's match against Liverpool at Anfield, and will miss the match at Fulham on February 3.

Skipper Gareth Barry is making slow progress in shaking off the pelvic injury which kept him out of the Liverpool game. Villa are doing everything they can to ensure he is fit for the Blackburn match on Saturday.

O'Neill said: "Gareth has been fantastic and was a major, massive loss to us. He's had a wonderful season and has played really great, but sometimes this [an injury] happens. And for us to go there [Anfield] without him speaks volumes for the rest of the squad.

"It's hard to say how long he will be out for. When he suffered the injury in training, he started to feel better and it wasn't so bad after the first day. But, since then, it's been slow going. We'll see how he is and listen, he's got to be really sore to miss a game. We're doing everything possible to try to get him fit."

Meanwhile, O'Neill is reluctant to allow midfielder Patrik Berger to return to Portsmouth who are understood to be ready to offer him an 18-month deal.

The Czech is still recovering from a ham-string problem and has yet to start a game this season after signing a new 12-month contract in the summer.

O'Neill said: "Portsmouth have still got to make contact with me about wanting to take him officially and Patrik can't go anywhere at the moment because he's injured."

Elsewhere Rangers are to step up their interest in Villa striker Luke Moore with O'Neill ready to let the 21-year-old leave if the £3.5million asking price is met.