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Houllier recalls Dunne in bid to halt Villa slide


Richard Dunne. Photo: Getty Images

Richard Dunne. Photo: Getty Images

Richard Dunne. Photo: Getty Images

Gerard Houllier will attempt to end Aston Villa's slump by making peace with some of the senior players with whom he has clashed.

Richard Dunne, dropped from the match-day squad for the past two games, is one of those expected to profit.

Villa have won just three of the 14 Premier League matches they have played under Houllier, and the 63-year-old is understood to be preparing to reintegrate Dunne into the squad to face Chelsea tomorrow -- there is a suggestion that the Ireland defender may even start.

Houllier has spent the past few weeks brushing inconvenient stories about disgruntled players under the carpet but he peeled back a corner yesterday, conceding that Dunne and his assistant manager Gary McAllister had shared some choice words in a training ground argument -- something he has previously denied.

He has also finally admitted that a number of his players have struggled to adapt to the changes he has insisted on making at Villa since arriving in September. But he also said he is prepared to bring some of those marginalised players back into the fold. "That probably will happen," he said.

For others, it might be too late. "Some players are very affected by what is going on," Houllier added, speaking in riddles. "Mentally. It is not a mistake to ask players to come to training. The younger ones will never let you down."

Houllier clearly feels that some of those he would expect to be officer class have failed to come through for him. Stephen Ireland, John Carew, Habib Beye and Dunne have all had disagreements, of varying seriousness, with their manager and been marginalised in favour of less experienced players.

Despite Villa's poor form Houllier insists he still has the support of the board, adding it is crucial he continue to do so if he is to assert his will over the more troublesome elements of his squad.

"Definitely," he said when asked whether owner Randy Lerner is behind him. "If the chairman trusts you, that trust goes also to the players."

The good news is that Ashley Young is expected to return from injury.

Houllier added: "We need to fight for our lives. When you go through a difficult period there are three things: there is fight, fright or flight. I think we are going to fight."

Stirring words, but whether his players have the stomach for it remains to be seen against a Chelsea team who showed some battling qualities to arrest their own slide against Bolton in midweek.

"We are not at our best, obviously -- the best condition, the best confidence, or the best atmosphere," said manager Carlo Ancelotti. "But I think we can improve -- we have to improve."

And Ancelotti is refusing to obsess over the form of Manchester United as he tries to figure out a way of hauling Chelsea back into the title race.

"We don't have to look at United," added the Italian. "This is a very difficult championship because every game can have a difficulty. It's a Premier League with a lot of balance, so nothing is decided now." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Chelsea v Aston Villa

Live, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 1.30

Irish Independent