After their failed excursion to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup, Chelsea return to Premier League action looking to make up lost ground.
Chelsea have fallen to seventh place in the league standings, but crucially are just one point off of third place and have two games in hand on the teams around them. Having returned from Japan just two days previous, Chelsea put in an impressive performance to beat Leeds 5-1 on Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Capital One Cup.
But manager Rafael Benitez recognizes that the hectic festive period represents a crucial phase that could define their league aspirations. The demanding schedule of four games in 11 days begins with the visit of Aston Villa on Sunday.
“They are doing well and it seems they are comfortable with the system, three at the back with wing backs, and they have good options in counter-attack because [Christian] Benteke is a good reference point,” Benitez said, according to Chelsea’s official website.
“But our priority is our team and what we try to do. Obviously we analyze the other team too, but we want them to have to adapt to us more than us to them. This is a crucial time. It is important because there are a lot of points available.”
Chelsea captain John Terry will still be missing with a knee injury, with Benitez unable to guarantee that he will be able to feature during this period. Also missing through suspension will be John Mikel Obi. Daniel Sturridge is due in Liverpool for a medical ahead of his proposed transfer so will not feature.
Aston Villa arrive at Stamford Bridge after arguably their most impressive performance of the season as they won 3-1 at Liverpool last weekend. Paul Lambert has led his side to five league matches without defeat, while Villa are also into the semifinals of the League Cup and eyeing a potential final with Chelsea.
Stephen Ireland is set to return from illness for the Midlands outfit, while Ron Vlaar and Gabriel Agbonlahor look set to face late fitness tests.
D: Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole
M: Ramires, Lampard
Moses, Mata, Hazard
Aston Villa (probable)
D: Herd, Clark, Baker
Lowton, Holman, Westwood, Bannan, Lichaj
F: Benteke, Weimann
Prediction: Aston Villa’s last five visits to Stamford Bridge have resulted in a tantalizing tally of 28 goals. There will certainly be the players on show on Sunday to give hope to that trend continuing. Benitez is likely to ensure that proceedings are not quite that open, though, and will hope to try and limit the threat posed by villa’s danger man Benteke.
It looks set to be a keenly fought encounter, but the Blues’ creative talents going up against an inexperienced Villa back line should see Chelsea come out on top.
Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa
Where to watch: The Premier League match will kick-off at 11 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a delayed online stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.