VILLAS-BOAS: TWO FIT FOR VILLA
The manager was speaking 24 hours before our final game of 2011, and explained that with other sides around us still dropping points, our Premier League title hopes remain very much alive, provided we put together a solid run of victories in the new year.
He also discussed the club's transfer activity, after a fee was agreed with Bolton Wanderers for defender Gary Cahill.
ON TEAM NEWS
Ramires returns to the squad after suspension and will be expected to line up in the centre of midfield, while Terry and Bosingwa are both fit despite suffering problems against Fulham on Boxing Day.
'I think [Branislav] Ivanovic and [John Mikel] Obi are making good progress but will continue to be out of the game, these two fixtures that are coming, and also [Michael] Essien the same,' Villas-Boas said.
'Regarding the rest of the players we should be okay. John Terry is okay, he had a big knock during the game against Fulham but he is okay. Bosingwa the same, he had to come off because he felt a muscle tighten, but he is okay.'
The 34-year-old added he expects to see Ghanaian Essien back in contention before the end of next month.
'I think mid-January. He will be introduced to first-team activity in mid-January and contention properly I think we are looking at three weeks for him to gain form and start competing to the level that the others are,' the manager said. 'It could take less time if we are positive about it and maybe in two weeks he can reach that level of form to come back for the team.'
Regarding Villa, Villas-Boas expects a difficult time breaking down a side that does not give much away on their travels, having drawn six of nine league games on the road.
'Villa have slowly been making progress,' he said. 'Alex [McLeish] has got Villa very well organised, they are one of the teams that shows great competence defending and also playing away from home, they have a lot of draws. They are compact and well organised.
'From what I have studied Alex has not changed a lot from game to game, they know each other's roles and have good relationships. They can give us a difficult challenge. The emotions that happened last year in the 3-3 were amazing and hopefully we can be competent enough to get the three points.'
ON TRANSFER ACTIVITY
It looks like being a busy January for Villas-Boas, with Nicolas Anelka already having agreed a move to Shanghai Shenhua and Alex having had a transfer request accepted.
The Portuguese also confirmed the club are in talks with Bolton Wanderers defender Gary Cahill's representatives after the two clubs agreed a fee for the 26-year-old.
'Gary has been involved in a struggle with Bolton and a fight for position in the league. I think his technical attributes are immense, and his pace is fantastic as well,' Villas-Boas said of the former Villa centre-back. 'There are weaknesses that stand but they are also related to the collective organisation of Bolton and that's why Owen [Coyle] is trying to correct them.
'He is a player who has been playing magnificently well at international level, alongside John Terry and I think he can add to any squad in the Premiership - he can make this jump.'
There is however plenty of distance left to run before Cahill becomes a Chelsea player.
'We are still miles apart regarding agreement with the player and we will continue to monitor this situation as we are continuing to monitor the other targets we have outlined,' Villas-Boas added.
'I would reiterate we are still very far away in terms of agreement with the player and am not sure if the player is going to join us or not.
'It's on my chief executive's hands at the moment. It's an on-going conversation and we have to wait for the best outcome.'
Cahill's arrival would clear the path for Alex to leave after just over four years in west London, but Villas-Boas admitted there are not yet any offers on the table for the Brazilian.
'There has been a lot of interest of course, and the player is a player of quality and has been associated with numerous clubs in different countries,' the manager reported. 'Regarding the options we are taking we always identified that position to be strengthened after the decision we took and we feel we are ready to respond as soon as the market opens and that's our main prerogative.
'We are preparing the squad for the remainder of the season without other sales apart from Nico's departure and Alex eventually. We are sticking to this squad and then to these players. If any club comes with an interesting offer we will have to consider it but what we are proposing is to take on the challenge for the months ahead with these players.
'It would be bad signs if people want to leave a club of this dimension. To trade this club for a better club, you don't find them a lot. You can restrict that number to five or six in the world that can offer the same prestige, history, facilities and economic stability. What is a running project of three years must play highly in a player's motivation and ambition when they consider the challenge.'
Didier Drogba has also been the subject of speculation linking him with a transfer, but Villas-Boas expects the 33-year-old still to be a Blue when he returns from the African Cup of Nations in February. Villas-Boas is hoping the striker will sign a new deal rather than choose to leave for free in the summer.
'We've had these talks before,' he explained. 'Our interest is there and the agreement hasn't been done. January arrives and the player is free to start speaking to other people and he has this advantage but his integrity and his values are never in question, neither his professionalism.
'We have to reach an agreement. It's a two-way process and it's been on-going for quite some time. We could have reached an agreement earlier but it wasn't the case and now January arrives for the player to consider his options. For me as a manager it's important to count on the player and person and I'm sure I can have it 100 per cent.'
Finally on the transfer front, Villas-Boas conceded there is the possibility of a loan deal for Josh McEachran in January.
'We are considering the amount of playing time that Josh hasn't been having and we are considering it might be better for him to go on loan,' he confirmed. 'Josh knows about it and we have high expectancies for Josh and the future of the club, so we are looking at Premiership level for him. Hopefully he can get that playing time that represents the talent that he is.'
ON 2011 AND BEYOND
Having given up hope of winning the title after our draw with Fulham, Villas-Boas then saw leaders Manchester City, as well as Liverpool and Arsenal, drop points later in the day. He admits there is still a chance we could succeed.
'Those words were based on people doing their jobs,' he said. 'On our predictions we would have thought Man City would win against West Brom and Arsenal would do the job against Wolves. The reality is that the Premiership is as unpredictable as that.
'It is for us to have the game where we have more shots on goal than any other game and not win the game and for those results to happen which might keep our hopes alive.
'We were 12 points behind before and 11 is still a gap that can be shortened but you have to be competent in those games. We are looking to get into a run of good results which we haven't got yet, a good run of solid wins which can make a difference in the league.
'I am not sure what the point tally will mean at the end of the season. It will continue to be pretty unpredictable. We have been near to our opponents two weeks ago and now we are further apart.
'It was a Boxing Day full of surprises apart from United and Tottenham, which meant the gap is still within reach. We still have faith we can turn this around. Whatever it takes to win the league it depends on the form, and the clashes between the top clubs. At the moment it is pretty tight and even if you consider [six teams] are playing for it, that is a lot of clashes and we can still see some surprises.'
Looking back at the previous, 12 months, Villas-Boas stated that on a personal level, it had been one to savour.
'It was a magnificent 2011 for me,' he smiled, 'first the four trophies we managed to win in Porto which represented a lot for the club. Also managing to get to raise an interest from Chelsea was something amazing for me and I am glad Chelsea took the opportunity and brought me in and hopefully I can repay them with my knowledge and trophies which was expected of me. A lot of positives.
'This experience has been tremendously positive this last five months, tremendously enriching in terms of experiences and again hopefully we can continue to make progress, and progress means trophies for this club.'
The Villa game is sold out but tickets are on general sale for the FA Cup third round tie at home to Portsmouth, priced £30 for adults and £15 for seniors and juniors.