Chelsea will be desperate to begin turning around their floundering defence of the Premier League title when they entertain an Aston Villa side that is gearing up for another battle to avoid the drop.
Jose Mourinho came out fighting after the last miserable Blues performance against Southampton, with his words leading to the vote of confidence that he wanted from the club’s board. He has plenty to think about as his side have rarely threatened to score goals in recent weeks, and have been run ragged in defence. Even the return of captain and leader John Terry could not turn the tide as they fell to the superb Saints in abject fashion.
The pressure that is on the Londoners coming into this clash cannot be underestimated, but they do at least have Diego Costa back in attack following his suspension, which will come as a psychological boost for a team that is woefully lacking in belief. He needs the quality service from underperforming duo Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard, as Willian’s free-kicks must no longer be their only route to goal. Drop points again here, and the vultures will be circling.
While things are undoubtedly grim at Stamford Bridge, those of a Villa persuasion are not exactly in a jovial mood, with their side having lost on six of their last seven Premier League outings and manager Tim Sherwood’s pre-season optimism seemingly fading fast. There is less pressure on them here, but they must start picking up points soon if they are to lift the tension, and for a side that has a number of pacy, creative attacking players, there is definite room for improvement.
Their last match against Stoke City was another one to forget as they lost the midfield battle and were pinned back by their more classy opponents for long periods, only playing well in fits and starts. The manner of the decisive goal was disappointing as Stoke exploited a huge hole in their defence, but if they can keep tight and disciplined here there is every chance of coming away with something. With Chelsea looking so brittle at present, players such as former Blue Scott Sinclair will fancy their chances.
Costa will come in for Radamel Falcao in one of what could be a number of changes to the Chelsea team. Branislav Ivanovic misses out through injury.
Adama Traore may return for struggling Villa, who are still unable to call upon defenders Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore, as well as Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Played for both – Andy Townsend: The Republic of Ireland international’s final season at Chelsea coincided with the first year of the Premier League, where he scored four times in 41 matches before moving on to Aston Villa in the summer of 1993. He went on to score eight times in 134 league outings for the West Midlands side, but his best day with the club came at Wembley in 1994 as they won the League Cup.