Chelsea and Aston Villa are set to square off in a potentially high-stakes Premier League encounter at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
It’s been seven years since the Blues last had to watch European football from the comforts of their home, as Todd Boehly’s lavish spending has yet to come to fruition.
Despite taking his total outlay to over £1 billion in the summer transfer window, the American businessman has overseen the club’s worst five-game Premier League start since 2015/16 (W1, D2, L2).
Ominously for manager Mauricio Pochettino, the last Chelsea boss to endure such a disappointing start failed to last beyond Christmas, with the London side sacking Jose Mourinho in the winter of 2015.
The Argentine manager lamented an ever-growing injury contingent following an underwhelming 0-0 draw at Bournemouth last weekend, justifying his team’s lacklustre showing by pointing to the double-digit list of absentees.
Backing Pochettino to inspire his new employers to a coveted European return in our Chelsea season preview looks to be a grave mistake. But there’s time for the ex-Tottenham Hotspur gaffer to undo the damage.
Villa’s visit to the capital may throw a spanner in the works, with Unai Emery’s side trouncing the Blues 2-0 at Stamford Bridge last April during an impressive ten-game unbeaten league stretch (W8, L2).
However, the Spaniard failed to live up to his tag as a European specialist in the build-up to this fixture. Polish side Legia Warsaw stunned the Lions 3-2 in their opening Europa Conference League outing on Thursday.
A disastrous result in Poland came at the worst possible moment for the Birmingham outfit, preventing them from building momentum after a stunning 3-1 comeback against Crystal Palace last weekend.
Pochettino could be blaming the injury crisis at the Bridge for a sluggish start, but the fact remains Chelsea have gone winless in three out of four Premier League games they’ve started as pre-match favourites (D1, L2).
Raheem Sterling’s rare blistering performance this season inspired the Blues to a 3-0 rout of newcomers Luton Town in late August, which remains their only home league win in ten matches (D5, L4).
There’s another reason the hosts cannot afford to tuck themselves into a false sense of security of playing in front of the home crowd, with Villa holding them winless twice in their last three top-flight H2Hs here (D1, L1).
However, putting all the blame on Pochettino would be unjust, considering his team wasted a league-high ten clear-cut scoring chances leading into their previous Premier League outing.
Villa have delivered a mixed bag of performance at the beginning of the new campaign, mustering three wins and two losses, all of which featured multi-goal margins at full-time.
Emery’s side picked up the league’s third-most away points under his tutelage last season, but their away showings this term have been disappointing.
Barring a somewhat expected 3-0 demolition of newly-promoted Burnley, Villa have lost their last two Premier League games on hostile turf by a combined score of 8-1, going down to Liverpool and Newcastle United.
They’ve been leaking goals at a frightening rate on the road, conceding three or more on three of their five competitive travels thus far, which hardly bodes well for their bid to bounce back from a midweek shock.
Pochettino cannot call upon the services of Benoit Badiashile, Armando Broja, Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Rome Lavia, Christopher Nkunku and Carney Chukwuemeka.
There’s still a question mark hanging over the head of Moises Caicedo, while Trevoh Chalobah and Noni Madueke could make the matchday squad after sitting out recent matches.
As for Villa, Emiliano Buendia, Tyrone Mings, Diego Carlos and Kortney House won’t make this trip due to injuries, with Bertrand Traore facing a race against time to board the plane.
Chelsea potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Robert Sanchez; Malo Gusto, Thiago Silva, Axel Disasi, Levi Colwill; Chimuanya Ugochukwu, Conor Gallagher; Enzo Fernandez, Raheem Sterling, Cole Palmer; Nicolas Jackson.
Aston Villa potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Emiliano Martinez; Matty Cash, Pau Torres, Ezri Konsa, Lucas Digne; Douglas Luiz, John McGinn, Boubacar Kamara; Leon Bailey, Moussa Diaby, Ollie Watkins.
We Say: Chelsea 1-1 Aston Villa
Neither manager would benefit much from a draw, but they also can’t afford to lose, especially Pochettino, whose place in the dugout could be on the line.
We expect both teams to find the net, although the spoils will likely be shared in what promises to be a fierce battle in the midfield.
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