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Barry saga casts shadow over Villa Park clash

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez will lock horns with Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill on Sunday for the first time since the angry fall out over the future of Gareth Barry.

Had things gone to plan for Benitez, he would be taking a Liverpool team that included Barry to face O'Neill at Villa Park.

Instead, after four months of bitter wranglings over the proposed transfer, the England midfielder will line-up for Villa having staged an about-turn and pledged his future to the midlands club for another season.

The public row between Benitez and O'Neill has simmered throughout the close season and the Liverpool manager admits the relationship now appears broken beyond repair.

And while the Spaniard insists his focus now rests solely on the game and his side's attempt to extend their impressive start to the season, there is no doubt the Barry affair provides an intriguing backdrop to the clash.

“Do I have a good relationship with Martin O'Neill? I don't think so,” Benitez said. “But of course I will shake his hand, I am a calm man and I do not have any problems with him about that.

“I had a good relationship with Martin O'Neill before this summer, and I was surprised at what has been said but I insist that I have not spoken to him since April.

“But I do not believe there will be any problem shaking hands, we can do it.”

Barry, who had declared his desire to join Liverpool and compete in the Champions League, will undoubtedly find himself the centre of attention during the game.

The Villa captain was booed by his own fans during the club's pre-season friendlies but insists there is no risk of him experiencing any split loyalties.

“I am 100 percent for Villa,” Barry said. “That's all I'll be doing. That won't be strange at all.

“I've spoken to the manager and I've no problem giving 100 percent for Aston Villa, and that will be starting against Liverpool on Sunday.

“All I can do is give 100 percent for the club. That is all the fans will want to see anyway. I am sure that will be enough.”

Having held onto Barry, O'Neill will hope to inflict a second embarrassment on his opposite number by inflicting a first defeat of the season on Benitez's side while at the same time boosting his own side's indifferent start to the campaign.

While Liverpool have managed to scrape single goal victories against Sunderland and Middlesbrough despite playing poorly, Villa suffered a shock defeat last week at Premier League newcomers Stoke.

The visitors' cause will not be helped by the absence of Steven Gerrard who underwent surgery on a groin problem this week that will keep him out of Engalnd's World Cup qualifiers double-header against Andorra and Croatia.

And the impact of having to play extra time in the midweek Champions League clash with Standard Liege could have an impact on Liverpool's level of fitness.

But Villa have been in Europe too, easing their way past FH Hafnarfjordur in midweek although they will undoubtedly be boosted by the arrival of James Milner from Newcastle this week.

Milner said: “This is a club on the way up and things have got better and better every season since I was last here.

“It's an exciting time to be here. This is a great place to be now.”

Sun 31 August, 2008
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