Aston Villa will hope Remi Garde’s departure can spark life into their seemingly doomed season, starting with Saturday’s home game against Premier League champions Chelsea.
Villa are 12 points from safety at the bottom of the table after Garde could only oversee two wins in 20 league games in charge.
While Villa can mathematically beat the drop, an upheaval at board level – as well as Garde’s departure – suggest that the club are already preparing for life in the Championship next season.
Caretaker boss Eric Black will take charge of the first team until a permanent replacement for Garde is found, and the Scot will certainly not be fazed by the task in hand, having previously worked as interim boss at Birmingham City, Sunderland, Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Rotherham United.
Black will be able to call upon Adama Traore and Jack Grealish, their wingers having recovered from respective metatarsal and ankle injuries which have kept them both out of Premier League action since a 3-1 defeat to Sunderland on January 2.
However, Villa will have to make do without Jordan Amavi (knee) and Libor Kozak (ankle) due to injury.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have little left to play for this campaign, with Guus Hiddink’s men trailing fourth-placed Manchester City by 10 points as a finish in the Champions League places seems a bridge too far.
Champions League and FA Cup elimination since the veteran boss replaced Jose Mourinho has also seen the Blues’ season peter out of late and they are without a win in four games across all competitions.
They will be keen to finish the season on a high, though, and maintain their unbeaten status under Hiddink in the Premier League.
The Blues are on a 14-game unbeaten run under the Dutchman and will be confident of making it 15 versus Villa, having won seven of the last eight Premier League meetings with the Birmingham outfit.
Hiddink will still be without striker Diego Costa due to suspension, while Eden Hazard is doubtful with a thigh problem.
Chelsea beat Villa 2-0 at Stamford Bridge earlier this campaign, with Costa opening the scoring before an Alan Hutton own goal decided the match after the break.
Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic were on target as Chelsea won 2-1 at Villa Park last season.
Key Opta facts:
– Aston Villa have won just two of their last 16 Premier League matches at Villa Park, scoring just 11 goals in that run.
– Chelsea are unbeaten in their last six Premier League away games (W4 D2), conceding just two goals in the process.
– There have been four red cards in the last three meetings between these two sides at Villa Park.
– Chelsea have won 199 games away from home in the Premier League.
– Branislav Ivanovic has scored five Premier League goals against Aston Villa, more than versus any other opponent.
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