Chelsea prepare to take on much improved Aston Villa

Blues return to Premier League action after Japan break

Chelsea return to Barclays Premier League duty after their mid-season 'break' this weekend knowing they will face an Aston Villa side high in confidence.

Before the Blues headed off to Japan to take part in the Club World Cup, Paul Lambert's men were struggling at the lower end of the table, but their situation changed somewhat while Chelsea were away.

The Champions League winners have come home to see that Villa not only beat Norwich 4-1 to make the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup, but also went to Anfield and defeated Liverpool 3-1 in the league.

Their mood is obviously high as a result and Chelsea could probably do without facing them after a week of travel which has taken them from Asia to London - via Leeds for a cup win of their own - but, according to defender Branislav Ivanovic, that is what they have to do.

"At the beginning of the season Aston Villa didn't start well, but now they have got confidence and are playing every game better and better," he said.

"For sure they will come on Sunday with nothing to lose as it's an away game for them and will play with extra confidence after winning at Anfield last week."

Chelsea will at least be glad of the game being a Sunday one, with their legs still suffering from the jet lag of their trip and also the heavy conditions at a rain-soaked Elland Road on Wednesday night.

They did not show any real signs of tiredness against the Championship side, scoring five second-half goals to ensure they cancelled out a first half Luciano Becchio goal, although a third game this week could test them more.

Once Juan Mata had equalised against Leeds the result never seemed in doubt, with stand-in captain Frank Lampard admitting that some tough half-time talking helped sort them out.

"We upped it in the second half. We were slow in the first but when we played with pace, you could see the difference," said the England midfielder.

"We had a word with ourselves at half-time and the early goal gave us an impetus to go on and win it."

Chelsea's five-star display in Yorkshire at least helped to bury some of the debris from their defeat to Corinthians last Sunday, but the spotlight will be back on them again this weekend.

With the two Manchester clubs winning last weekend, Chelsea need a league result to maintain a healthy title challenge and Ivanovic is keen for them to get it by whatever means they can.

"For us it's important to get results when we're not playing well, to win ugly," he said.

"This is very important for the confidence and for the players to believe. We have three days to prepare for a very important game against Aston Villa at home, which will also be a very difficult moment and hard game for us."

PA

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