Stamford Bridge forms the backdrop for Saturday evening’s showdown as Chelsea look to return to winning ways when they trade tackles with Aston Villa on their return to Premier League action.
Chelsea were held to a disappointing 2-2 draw by relegation-threatened Everton heading into the international break, and Graham Potter will be hoping that mishap is only a blip in their potential resurgence.
However, returning to winning ways may not be a walk in the park, especially with the Blues set to face a Villa side that have proven to be a different proposition under Unai Emery’s tutelage.
The Villans recorded a resounding 3-0 victory over Bournemouth in their last outing and will fancy their chances against the unconvincing Blues at the weekend.
Having won three games on the bounce, including an impressive Champions League turnaround over Borussia Dortmund, there was growing optimism that the Blues may have finally grasped Potter’s methods and a resurgence was well underway.
However, the draw against a lowly Everton side brought the Blues back down to earth, and dropping points in consecutive games could plunge them back to square one.
The stalemate at the Bridge will feel like a draw to the majority of the Chelsea faithful who watched their side take the lead twice through Joao Felix and Kai Havertz.
However, they were thwarted twice by the dogged Toffees, who refused to lay down as Abdoulaye Doucoure and Ellis Simms ensured Sean Dyche’s side did not return to Merseyside empty-handed.
Calls for Potter’s head have cooled following recent results. But the English manager felt the home crowd’s frustration when the final whistle went and will be desperate to avoid consecutive negative results that could incur the wrath of the supporters once again.
Qualifying for next season’s Champions League campaign through a top-four finish will require divine intervention.
But finishing the season strongly will go a long way in ensuring Potter survives this summer, with the club hierarchy keen to allow the 47-year-old ample time to turn things around.
A win at the weekend will see the Blues surpass the 40-point mark, so at least relegation is out of the question, but salvaging what is left of an already abysmal campaign should be Potter’s priority.
Chelsea have won nine of their last 11 games against the Villans (D1, L1), but inconsistency on home turf could prove the Blues’ demise, as only three of their previous nine league games at the Bridge have ended in victory.
Another sign of encouragement would be their new-found goalscoring prowess, having found the back of the net six times in their last three games, which is as much as they managed in the previous 12 combined.
A Mason Mount brace and some exceptional Kepa Arrizabalaga saves handed the Blues a 2-0 win in the reverse fixture in October.
However, the Villans have improved in leaps and bounds since Steven Gerrard’s dismissal, and anything but a top-drawer performance from Chelsea could see them falter against Emery’s relentless Villa side.
Villa enjoyed plenty of bites at the Cherries last time out as goals from Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey, and Emiliano Buendia put Gary O’Neil’s side to the sword with aplomb.
Having picked up ten points from their last four league games, the international break arguably came at the worst time for the 11th-placed Villa, who only sit behind Saturday’s opponents on goal difference and could break into the top half with a positive result at the weekend.
Emery’s side are unbeaten in their last four league games (W3, D1), keeping a clean sheet in each of those three wins. But not since December 2020 have they gone five games without defeat in the English top flight.
Villa have won just one of their previous 17 games on Chelsea’s turf (D4, L12), including six of the last seven since December 2011.
However, with Emery in the dugout, the chances of them coming away from the Bridge with a positive result are significantly improved as the Spanish gaffer has picked up 13 points on the road since his arrival – a record only bested by Manchester City (16) and Arsenal (15).
Villa have a realistic chance of ending the season in the top half of the table. But the Lions could roar toward an improbable European finish with just four points separating them from Liverpool, who occupy the Europa Conference League spot – although the Reds have a game in hand.
Premier League Form
Aston Villa: LLWWDW
Potter will be without several first-team stars when Villa storm the Bridge. Armando Broja and Thiago Silva are certain absentees as they continue their recovery from injury.
Kai Havertz and Reece James were forced to withdraw from international duty through illness and a thigh problem respectively.
Although Havertz should recover in time to lead the line for the Blues – James could also feature, as his withdrawal from the England squad is understood to be a precautionary measure.
Emery will miss Polish right-back Matty Cash who is now facing a spell on the sidelines after sustaining a calf injury on international duty.
He joins Jed Steer and Philippe Coutinho in Villa’s injury roster, but Boubacar Kamara, Leander Dendoncker, and Ashley Young are all fit to start at the weekend.
Chelsea potential starting line-up:
(3-4-3): Kepa Arrizabalaga; Trevoh Chalobah, Kalidou Koulibaly, Benoit Badiashile; Reece James, Enzo Fernandez, Mateo Kovacic, Ben Chilwell; Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz, Joao Felix.
Aston Villa potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Emiliano Martinez; Ashley Young, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings, Alex Moreno; John McGinn, Douglas Luiz; Leon Bailey, Emiliano Buendia, Jacob Ramsey; Ollie Watkins.
How to Watch?
Chelsea vs Villa, alongside all other fixtures in England’s top flight, is available to watch online via live Premier League streams.
We Say: Chelsea 1-1 Aston Villa
Villa have enjoyed a sensational goalscoring run during Emery’s reign, having found the back of the net in all of their 16 competitive matches since the Spanish manager arrived, so their ability to trouble a shaky Chelsea backline goes without saying.
However, Chelsea’s league games have seen the fewest goals this season (57 – 29 GF, 28 GA), with Stamford Bridge also seeing the fewest of any venue in the top flight (26 strikes in total), so the weekend encounter has all the makings of a low scoring affair with both sides sharing the spoils.
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