Saturday’s late kick off at Villa Park gives Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side the opportunity to stretch their lead at the top to at least nine points - provided Manchester City beat Hull in the day’s early kick-off - with Arsenal and Liverpool both facing tough away fixtures the following day at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane respectively.
The Portuguese manager has persistently downplayed his side’s chances of securing their first domestic crown since Carlo Ancelotti led them to a league and cup double in the 2009/10 season, but his admission that everything he says is mind games shows he believes his current crop have what it takes to win the Premier League. They were rampant in last week’s second-half demolition of Tottenham – even if the three points came somewhat gift wrapped by the visitors – and another Saturday evening performance like last week’s will leave the likes of Manuel Pellegrini, Brendan Rodgers and Arsene Wenger fretting on their own sides chances of catching them.
Fixtures have fallen kindly in recent weeks for the league leaders with City left to play catch up after a combination of FA Cup action and a postponement, allowing Chelsea to open up an intimidating lead at the top and exert some pressure on a team that has begun to look vulnerable. That said, City would usurp the Blues at the top if they win all their games in hand – the reason behind Mourinho’s claims the Premier League table is ‘unrealistic’.
From Aston Villa’s perspective, they will be looking to finish the season as strongly as possible to provide fans at Villa Park with optimism looking ahead to next year. Although they’re by no means safe from relegation, they sit comfortably six points ahead of the bottom three but perhaps more importantly, there are six other teams sandwiched in between them and the drop zone.
Paul Lambert has at times this season fallen out of favour with some parts of the Midlands fan base, largely because of their failings at home. They have won four at home all season, drawing five and losing five of the other 10. That record will not fill Pellegrini, Wenger or Rodgers with any confidence.
KICK-OFF: Saturday, 5.30pm
PAST THREE MEETINGS…
Chelsea (Luna OG, Ivanovic) 2-1 Aston Villa (Benteke), Premier League
Aston Villa (Benteke) 1-2 Chelsea (Lampard ), Premier League
Chelsea (Torres, Luiz, Ivanovic, Ramires , Lampard, Oscar, Hazard) 8-0 Aston Villa, Premier League
Aston Villa have the chance to win back-to-back home games for the first time since August 2011 after they beat Norwich 4-1 last time out
Chelsea have conceded just two goals in their last six away games, winning four and drawing two in the process
Frank Lampard (13) has scored more goals against Aston Villa than he has against any other opponent in Premier League history
Chelsea (14) are the only team to have collected more points from losing positions than Aston Villa (13) this term
Villa have lost their last four in a row against the Blues, and have only tasted victory once in their last eight league meetings
Aston Villa to win: 6.5
Chelsea to win: 1.53
Boxing Day 2007 provided Aston Villa and Chelsea fans with the most entertaining encounter between these two this side of the Millennium when they drew 4-4 at Stamford Bridge. Back when Mourinho was enjoying his first stint as Blues’ boss, Gareth Barry scored a late penalty to earn an incredible draw for the Villains in west London. Villa surged into a two-goal lead but after Zat Knight saw red and Andrei Shevchenko scored from the resulting penalty, the tie turned in the home side’s favour. Shevchenko netted the equaliser, Alex gave Mourinho’s men the lead by Martin Laursen once again levelled the match at 3-3. Ricardo Carvalho evened up the numbers with a nasty lunge that resulted in an early bath, and although Michael Ballack once again put the home side ahead, Barry’s late spot-kick heroics rescued a point for the visitors.
TV: Live Sky Sports 1, Saturday 5.30pm. Highlights on BBC 1 at 10.30pm