LIVERPOOL, February 16 – Martin O'Neill is facing fitness concerns about three of his most influential players ahead of what promises to be one of the most significant weeks of Aston Villa's season.
England striker Emile Heskey was forced to sit-out his side’s 3-1 FA Cup fifth round defeat at Everton’s Goodison Park on Sunday after aggravating a nagging Achilles problem on international duty.
Heskey is struggling to overcome the problem and is having round-the-clock treatment in a bid to be fit for Villa’s UEFA Cup game with CSKA Moscow on Wednesday.
O’Neill is desperate for his side to progress in Europe and equally keen for Heskey to be available for the last 32 clash at Villa Park.
Villa also face a crunch clash on Saturday at home to Chelsea, one of their main rivals for a Champions league place this season.
These two games could go on to define Villa’s season and to make matters worse England winger James Milner hobbled away from Goodison with what appeared to be an ankle injury, while defender Curtis Davies has a sore shoulder.
Both will join Heskey in the treatment room in the wake of his side’s FA Cup exit courtesy of goals from Everton’s Jack Rodwell, Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill.
Milner had cancelled out Rodwell’s fourth minute strike with a penalty in the seventh minute, but Everton took their chances and O’Neill knows how vital it is his side bounce back at the expense of the Russians in midweek.
At least O’Neill will welcome back Gareth Barry from suspension and he said: "We have been on the go this season since the Intertoto Cup in July. We started way back and it’s a long long time. We haven’t come this far just to fall out of things.
"Emile Heskey shouldn’t have played for England last week. He should have been sent home then we might have had a chance of playing him (against Everton). I don’t know if him or Curtis will be fit in time for Wednesday."
Everton, meanwhile, can look forward to their first FA Cup quarter final since 2002 and manager David Moyes is convinced the future is bright at Goodison Park.
He once again fielded young midfielders Rodwell and Dan Gosling, with the former scoring his first senior goal to earn rich praise from Moyes.
While Rodwell’s preferred position is midfield Moyes believes he has a potential centre back on his hands who could go on to become as good as current Manchester United and England star Rio Ferdinand.
Moyes said: "I don’t know where Rio started his career but I’m sure he played in midfield for a spell.
"I think Jack Rodwell was outstanding again and he’s a good boy who wants to keep improving. He’s got a great manner about him and is one of those players clubs love to have. I think he has a lot of similar qualities to Rio and could go on to become a centre back like him in the future."
Moyes also praised the contribution of Victor Anichebe and admitted the young striker had given him a selection headache ahead of his side’s game with Newcastle this coming weekend.
With on-loan Manchester City striker Jo set to return having been cup-tied against Villa, Moyes knows he is starting to have the sort of attacking problems he has craved.
He said: "Victor played very well. What he needs to do is put a run of form together, show more consistency and we will have some player on our hands. He’s an exciting young player who provides us with another valuable option."