Aston Villa seriously improved their survival hopes with a 4-1 triumph over relegation rivals Norwich, but they clearly face a much tougher task against Premiership leaders Chelsea. Buoyed by the 4-0 triumph over local rivals Tottenham, the Blues arrive at Villa Park brimming with confidence and hoping to cement the first place in the standings.
Aston Villa fans had a lot to hope for after Paul Lambert helped his youthful side survive the previous Premier League campaign, especially as star striker Christian Benteke ultimately decided to stay at Villa Park. However, with the talented forward suffering a second season syndrome and numerous injuries causing plenty of problems at the back, the Villans never quite managed to hit the ground running. Summer signing Leandro Bacuna proved the saviour on more than one occasion and if it hadn’t been for his goals, the team would probably be sitting much closer to the relegation zone at the moment. The 4-1 victory over Norwich could prove to be crucial in club’s survival fight, with Christian Benteke rediscovering his scoring boost, but I still don’t see how Paul Lambert’s side are going to match in-form Chelsea on Saturday. The absence of full-back Ryan Bertrand, who is ineligible to face his parent club, is likely to create a problem at the back, as neither Antonio Luna nor have impressed in a left-back position. Attacking trio of Benteke, Weimann and Agbonlahor has potential to create problems for the Blues, but their shaky back line will have their work cut out for them when facing the likes of Hazard, Oscar and Eto’o.
Even if pre-season predictions did not seem spot on as Chelsea largely struggled for form in the opening exchanges, the Blues eventually came good and now do look as the most likely candidates for the Premier League title. The arrival of Nemanja Matic has helped the team seriously improve their performances, with the back line also showing incredible improvement in the New Year. After keeping just four clean sheets in first 16 Premier League fixtures, Chelsea did not concede in nine of next thirteen, and it is precisely some impressive defensive showings that have helped the team record excellent results against England’s top sides. Having showed a lot of character to overcome hard-working Everton at Stamford Bridge, the Blues enjoyed big wins over local rivals Fulham and Tottenham, thus creating a seven-point cushion at the Premiership summit. And while their title rivals have between one and three games in hand, Chelsea still have a big psychological advantage thanks to the big lead at the top of the standings. Having done so well over the past few weeks, Jose Mourinho’s charges will fancy their chances of beating Aston Villa, especially with all key men available for selection. David Luiz is a slight doubt, but Nemanja Matic will start as he is ineligible for the Champions League game against Galatasaray.
Aston Villa are far from the desired form in spite of the rare big win over Norwich and with the Villans clearly lacking quality and experience to match in-form Chelsea, away win looks on the cards. The Blues are playing with a lot of confidence at the moment, and their triumph shouldn’t come into question even if Mourinho opts to rest some of his starters.
Verdict: Away win Chelsea (2)
Best Odds: 8/15