A much improved Aston Villa come to Stamford Bridge Sunday afternoon and a win could see them top the table if results go in their favour. Defeat for us could also bring an end to Scolari’s nine game unbeaten run as well as our 85 game unbeaten home run, and Villa manager Martin O’Neill is confident his side can do just that.
The Villa manager says: “I tend to think the way the calendar has fallen, it’s a remarkably big game for us. But then I think all Premier League games are big games for us. I’m quite sure if we go to Stamford Bridge and get turned over, people will say listen, not much to write home about there but that’s not how I’m viewing it. We’re going into the game with loads of confidence and we feel we can win. It seems very, very strong talk here but I’ve plenty of confidence in the side who are playing with a lot of self-belief and that’s so, so important. We’ve got a chance. I think we’ve got a chance in every game we play. I always think that.”
However, O’Neill doesn’t accept Chelsea’s current injury concerns make the prospect of playing us right now much more attractive, stating: ”I don’t accept that, I think Chelsea have shown over the last number of years they are so strong in every department. They are a class outfit and I’m a huge admirer of Chelsea Football Club. They’re defending an 85, 86 or 87 home game run without being beaten and it’s phenomenal. There will not be a thought in our heads at all about whether we will try and beat a record, that record is sensational and, if and when it’s eventually broken, it’ll be hard for any club in this era to repeat that. It really is incredible but we came close last season on Boxing Day when we led 2-0.”
The Chelsea manager meanwhile seems remarkably upbeat about the decreasing selection choice at Chelsea these days, joking: “Deco is out, Ricardo Carvalho is out, Didier is out. And for the others, I will wait until tomorrow. I spoke to John Terry and he said: ‘I play, maybe on one leg, but I play’. He’s a man who won’t accept he has a pain here or there. Some players when they have something act like little babies.”
Whilst on his opponents, Scolari says: “I’ve watched many tapes of Villa. I have not met O’Neill but I like his style and when I’ve asked the players about him, they say only good things. Villa are playing not very well – but very, very well and it is a big game.”
When it comes to our injuries going into this game, as Scolari says, Drogba (knee) joins Deco (thigh), Carvalho (knee) and Michael Essien (knee) on the missing list. Ashley Cole (back), Joe Cole (hip), Alex (buttock) and John Terry (back) all face late fitness checks before any decisions are made. In fact, it turns out that only 15 players have actually trained for this game, and that includes players like Franco Di Santo, Scott Sinclair, Miroslav Stoch and even Michael Mancienne who has never played for the club at senior level.
Villa strikers John Carew (groin) and Gabriel Agbonlahor (thigh) have both been declared fit for Stamford Bridge, whilst recalls for skipper Martin Laursen, fellow defender Curtis Davies and the midfield duo of Gareth Barry and Nigel Reo-Coker, will see O’Neill have the luxury of reverting to the same line-up which has featured in Villa’s last six games.
Frank Lampard – with so few players either available or capable of scoring, my guess is we’ll be relying heavily on Lampard to come up with something.
Gabriel Agbonlahor – the forward, who can play wide right or as a striker has pace to burn. Alex and Terry are definitely not the fastest defensive pairing anyway and with both of them facing late fitness tests, their inclusion could see Agbonlahor causing us problems.
Chelsea go into this game with a 27 game unbeaten run in the Premier League (won 19, drawn 8 ) and remain the only club unbeaten in the Premier League this calendar year (won 17, drawn 7). Chelsea are on the longest current run of 14 games since conceding more than one goal in a Premier League game and have scored in each of their last 18 outings. Chelsea haven’t lost a league game at Stamford Bridge since 21 February 2004 (won 61, drawn 24), so remain unbeaten in 85 at home. Last tow home games have seen Chelsea draw 1-1 on each occasion against Spurs and Manchester United.
Villa’s game this weekend will be their seventh in 21 days, they’re unbeaten in their last four Premier League games, winning the last three, which has seen their best start to a Premier League season in nine years. Villa have scored two goals in each of their last five away games in the league although have managed only one game from the last ten without conceding. Their win against Spurs last month was the first time they’ve left London with 3 points in the last four years and they haven’t beaten any of the ‘Big Four’ in their last seven attempts. However, Villa, who go into the game only a point behind Chelsea, took maximum points off us at Villa Park last season.
HEAD TO HEAD
Chelsea go into this game looking for their 50th win over Villa from 136 league and cup meetings. Chelsea have won four and drawn two of their last Premier League games at home to Villa, whilst Villa are unbeaten in five games against us (1 win, 4 draws). Our last game at Stamford Bridge, on Boxing Day, saw three red cards, two penalties and a brace from Andriy Shevchenko, in a game that saw eight goals. That game was also our fifth time in eight Premier League meetings to see us draw.
Home and Away
League (inc PL): Chelsea 44 wins, Villa 48 wins, Draws 30
Prem: Chelsea 13 wins, Villa 9 wins, Draws 10
At Chelsea Only
League (inc PL): Chelsea 31 wins, Villa 18 wins, Draws 12
Prem: Chelsea 8 wins, Villa 4 wins, Draws 4
Chelsea 4 – 4 Villa
Chelsea scorers: Shevchenko (2), Alex, Ballack
Villa scorers: Maloney (2), Laursen, Barry
Sent off: Knight
26 December 2007 – Ref: Phil Dowd
An in-form Villa, fielding the same eleven for the past six Premier League games against a patched-up Chelsea side doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence for this one. Add to that, the pace of Villa’s front men against a struggling Alex and John Terry partnership, and I really think our unbeaten home run could come under serious threat here.
CHELSEA (from): Cech, Cudicini, Hilario, *Terry, *Alex, Ivanovic, *A Cole, Bosingwa, Bridge, Ferreira, Lampard, *J Cole, Mikel, Ballack, Malouda, Sinclair, Belletti, Kalou, Anelka, Di Santo, Stoch, Mancienne
VILLA (from): Friedel, L Young, Laursen, Davies, Shorey, Reo-Coker, Barry, Petrov, A Young, Carew, Agbonlahor, Guzan, Milner, Cuellar, Gardner, Osbourne, Knight, Harewood, Salifou, Routledge
Chris Foy (Merseyside)