As Aston Villa’s relegation edges ever closer to being confirmed, their latest outing on their slow descent to Championship sees them take on a Chelsea side that have also suffered a season to forget as they lie in mid-table obscurity.
Having the better of the first half at Swansea City in their previous game came as scant consolation for Villa as the chances that came their way were all passed up before a goalkeeping error from Brad Guzan led to them conceding the decisive goal shortly after the break. That result spelt the end of manager Remi Garde’s public rallying cries, and indeed the end of his tenure as he left by mutual consent on Tuesday. Whoever replaces him looks to have a huge rebuilding job on their hands.
There were positives to draw on from the performance in South Wales, but the lack of quality in the squad is continually obvious. With constant boardroom upheaval and protests against want-away owner Randy Lerner from supporters, the club is far from stable at present and there are fears they could struggle next season in the second tier, so although they are currently fighting a lost cause, it is key that they pick up some good results in the coming weeks to restore at least a hint of optimism.
They may be the defending champions, but Chelsea are going by almost unnoticed at present as they languish in 10th place with no more trophies to fight for and all hope of a European place for next season looking forlorn. Before the international break they played second fiddle to a West Ham United side that has plenty to fight for, needing the aid of a disputed penalty kick to rescue a late point. The summer cannot come soon enough for all concerned at the Blues.
The most impressive aspect of that game from their perspective was the display of Cesc Fabregas, whose campaign has been hit and miss to say the least, but the Spaniard sprinkled his subtle quality on the proceedings and took a leaf out of teammate Willian’s book by firing in a superb free-kick. It was only enough to help his team earn a point and draws have come with frustrating regularity under Guus Hiddink, who is expected to make way for Italy boss Antonio Conte after Euro 2016.
Gabriel Agbonlahor has been suspended by Aston Villa and so will not play any part here. Elsewhere, caretaker boss Eric Black has Adama Traore available after the winger recovered from injury.
Diego Costa is out again for Chelsea due to suspension, while Eden Hazard is still injured. Radamel Falcao could be involved for the first time since October.
Last Meeting: The relief among the Aston Villa players was tangible in February 2015 as a header from Jores Okore saw them end a goal drought that had gone on for some 659 minutes of Premier League football. But it was not enough to take any points as Eden Hazard’s early goal put Chelsea ahead, and the visitors got the winner when Branislav Ivanovic finished like a striker into the far corner from just inside the penalty area.