Aston Villa caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald has named James Milner in his squad to face West Ham on Saturday.
It is a surprise move amid intense speculation that the midfielder is close to securing a switch to Premier League rivals Manchester City.
The 24-year-old England international has reportedly already been the subject of a £20million move from the Blues which was knocked back, and they have stepped up their interest in recent days.
A potential snag to the deal could be the demands of Stephen Ireland who is thought to be holding out for a pay-off as City look to offload him as part of the transfer.
It was speculated that Milner, formerly of Leeds and Newcastle, would not be included in Villa's squad while his future remained uncertain.
However, MacDonald, who has temporarily taken the reins of the club since the departure of Martin O'Neill, has selected him in the matchday pool and he could now feature against the Hammers at Villa Park.
MacDonald said: "The latest about Milner is that talks are still ongoing. Nothing can be done today in terms of him being signed in time to play tomorrow.
"James has been put in the squad and will be available to play for Aston Villa against West Ham. I didn't have to think hard about putting James in the squad.
"It was a pretty straightforward decision for me. You need to get your best players on the pitch. James is one of our best players.
"James would also have the mental strength to deal with it if the crowd reaction is hostile. He is a tough lad.
"I would expect him not to let it affect him and he is very much a team player."
Keep the faith
MacDonald is hoping that the Villa crowd will not turn on Milner if he plays, despite the possible move to City.
"I hope the fans don't get on his back," he added.
"I hope they get behind him and say 'whatever happens, he is playing for us today' and look what he has done for us over the previous couple of years.
"James is one of the fittest players I've come across in my life - and I've come across some very, very fit ones.
"The amount of work and running he has done in training would tell me he would have no problems if he was selected to start."
On his own future role at the club, MacDonald added: "I've very much got an open mind. Do I want the job full-time? It's hard to say. I'll see how I enjoy it.
"There are loads of people around who would like to take the job of Villa manager.
"I've been given the job for this game. I've got no idea how much I will enjoy it. It's all new to me.
"I enjoy the coaching side and tactics but the other parts of it, I've not been subject to a great deal."
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