Friday, December 22, 2006

Mellberg Backs United For Title

Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg believes Manchester United will hold off the challenge of Chelsea and win the Barclays Premiership as he prepares for the demanding task of trying to shackle Cristiano Ronaldo in Saturday's home clash.

Mellberg has been converted into a makeshift right-back in recent weeks and joked it might be an appropriate time to move back into central defence given the threat Ronaldo will pose.

But the Swedish international is also aware that a positive result for Villa will act as a massive lift after a six-game sequence without a win has seen them drop out of the top six.

It will be the first of three games in 21 days against United with Villa visiting Old Trafford for an FA Cup third round tie on January 7 and the return league meeting six days later.

Mellberg said: "It will be nice to face Ronaldo. It might be a good game to maybe move back into the centre - but we will see how it goes.

"He is a great player and United have got Ryan Giggs who can operate in that position as well. We need to be on top of our game against them.

"Ronaldo has done really well this season. I didn't really follow what happened in the World Cup too much when he seemed to come in for some criticism.

"But if you follow his performances, he is a top class player and he has shown that in previous seasons as well as during this one.

"He is really quick and skilful with the ball at his feet so he will probably get a lot of free-kicks as well. We have to be aware of him."

United have only a two point lead at the top after losing to West Ham at Upton Park.

But Mellberg insisted: "I think that United can hold off Chelsea. They look really strong. They have definitely been the strongest team so far this season.

"It is going to be between them and Chelsea for the title but Manchester United have looked really powerful so far."

Villa have collected four points from the last 18 and Mellberg admitted: "It will act as a really good lift if you can get a positive result out of this sort of game.

"Even though we need the points and we have got to get our home form going, I don't think there will be any pressure on winning these games coming up against Manchester United.

"But, if we can get good results there, it will give everyone a boost."

Villa midfielder Gavin McCann is battling to be fit after suffering a hamstring injury against Bolton. If he is ruled out, Craig Gardner may make his first start of the campaign.

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