The international break worked wonders for the career of Gareth Barry - and rightly so, given his performances for England - but may well have set Aston Villa's season back by a couple of weeks.

The contrast between Villa's match away to Manchester City on Sunday and at home to Chelsea on September 2 could hardly have been starker. It gives credence to the view that these intermissions benefit players more than they benefit clubs.

Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, had stated that his team "did not create enough" but there was still a feeling of injustice after the 1-0 defeat. A draw might have been a fairer result.

The international break took away from Villa the one thing they gained most from the match against Chelsea: momentum. The spark that had frustrated Chelsea and contributed to

Villa's best result in six years was not evident against City and the performance in Manchester was more like the one on the opening day of the season against Liverpool; honest and enthusiastic but disjointed and uninspiring. The sense of anticlimax was as strong as the sense of defeat.

"We never really got going," was Olof Mellberg's assessment and the Sweden international defender is never anything less than honest. Ashley Young, the Villa winger, said: "We were just not good enough."

How different it might have been had the international break not happened and Villa were able to quickly build on their performance against Chelsea. But dealing with the vagaries of the fixture list is as much an obstacle as dealing with the strengths of the opposition.

O'Neill dealt with it by not raising the subject. Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, whose team kicked off away to Portsmouth at lunchtime on Saturday when virtually all of his main players had been away, made the issue a cause celebre. Sir Alex Ferguson backed Benitez. Other managers made some mention of the problem.

One is inclined to the view that O'Neill's stance is cleverer because it puts the onus on the team to revive their flagging fortunes. There were no excuses, just a desire to put the wrongs right.

"We have to bounce back from defeats," Mellberg said, "just like we did when we lost to Liverpool."

Villa's next match is at home to Everton on Sunday, which will evoke images of the match between these teams at Villa Park last season.

Villa secured a 1-1 draw after producing a wretched first-half performance and they used their second-half display as a catalyst end fears about relegation.

Both teams have improved since then but both lost last weekend and cannot afford the psychological damage of yet another defeat.

That victory against Chelsea should have been pivotal but now, after the setback against City, the perception remains that Villa are a work in progress.

There is no doubting Barry's influence. He is as important to Villa as Steven Gerrard is to Liverpool and Frank Lampard to Chelsea. Barry was always a man ahead of his years but, under O'Neill, he has added new attributes to his game.

The sight of Barry darting down the right wing against City, showing quick feet and good vision, said much for his confidence during what is easily the best time of his career.

O'Neill does not like it when anybody suggests that his team is built around one player.

"That assumes the one player in question is guaranteed a pace in the team," O'Neill once said.

But Villa are built around Barry and, while O'Neill would never confirm it, the midfield player is all but guaranteed a place in the team (subject to fitness, of course).

Gabriel Agbonlahor is only likely to be left out of the team when O'Neill deems the winger-cum-striker to be in need of a rest. The same goes for Young, who has begun the season in fine form and looks more like a £10 million player than he did during the latter stages of the 2006-07 campaign.

Nigel Reo-Coker, though talented, is still seeking consistency, Luke Moore is not yet a 20-goal-a-season striker, and John Carew can baffle as much as he can excite. There is also the need for a natural right back.

The defeat to Manchester City did not cloud the view that Villa are moving in the right direction, just as the victory over Chelsea did not cloud the view that Villa are still in transition, but there is no doubt that the international break came at the wrong time for O'Neill.