Villa Park, Birmingham
October 16, 2010, 09:55 PM IST
With the tough away trip to Moscow on the horizon, Chelsea will travel to Villa Park on Saturday, to resume the proceedings after the International break. After suffering their first defeat of the season, away at Manchester City, the Blues came back strongly to register a 2-0 win over Arsenal at the Bridge. The reigning champions have a 4-point lead at the top of the table after just 7 games; however, any let-ups this weekend may just reignite the red flame in Manchester.
Ancelotti will be wary of the fact that the customary ‘slow start’ by title-rivals Man United will not continue for long, and thus will push his men to pull away from the challengers, before things settle down at Old Trafford. With this ambition in mind, he has to travel to a ground, which has not been a happy hunting ground for Chelsea. The Blues have managed to win just six out of the twenty games that they have played in all competitions on this ground since the start of the Premier League in 1992-93.
In the last eleven Premiership games at Villa Park between the two sides, Chelsea’s solitary victory came in Guus Hiddink’s first match in-charge, after Luiz Phillipe Scolari had been shown the door by Roman Abramovich. Under Ancelotti, the Blues have played three games in all competitions against Aston Villa, losing the away fixture and demolishing the opponents in the remaining two. To sum it up, over the years this has been one tough away trip for the West London club.
Last time the Londoners faced a Gerrard Houllier side, they lost 0-1 to Liverpool at home. But that was 6 years ago, and a lot has changed during the time the 63-year old Frenchman was away. This season, the Villains are yet to lose a home game; however, they have won just one out of the last four games in the league – that was away at Molineux.
Aston Villa has at best been erratic this season. Martin O’ Neill’s shock departure has also not helped their cause. On one hand, they have defeated West Ham and Everton at home, while on the other, they have lost to Stoke and Newcastle on the road. The encounter at St. James’ Park turned into a rout, as an Andy Carroll-inspired Newcastle tore the Villa defense to shreds. Presently, the Villa Park side has 10 points from 7 games.
Gabriel Agbonlahor is out, and the availability of Heskey, who has had a calf and shin problem, is subject to a late medical. Ergo, John Carew is expected to start for the Villains. Fresh from the English adventure, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing are expected to be used by Houllier to support the big centre-forward. While, Delph and Weimann remain sidelined.
Aston Villa Possible Starting Eleven: Friedel, L Young, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Albrighton, Reo-Coker, Petrov, Downing, A Young, Carew
This game has come at a time when Chelsea is reeling under a serious injury crisis. Benayoun was allowed to play by the Chelsea medical team that somehow failed to understand the true nature of his injury. Now, after being correctly diagnosed, he’s set to be side-lined for six months. This can turn out be a huge blow for the champions as Yossi’s versatility could have allowed him to play in as many as four different positions on the pitch. Alex suffered an injury during the dying minutes of the game against Arsenal. It is speculated that the rocket that he pulled out of the bag may have been responsible for the thigh strain, which will keep him out of this encounter. Lampard and Kalou remain sidelined.
In Friday’s press conference, Carlo Ancelotti summed up the injury crisis at the Bridge in just a line – “Frank Lampard is not available, Drogba is not available, Sturridge is not available, Kalou is not available, Alex is not available, Benayoun is not available, Terry is available.”
John Terry has recovered from the back injury he sustained during a training session with the England squad and will play tomorrow, while Didier Drogba is out due to fever. The almost forgotten right-back Jose Bosingwa is back after an year, and will be on the bench.
The Chelsea manager has even declared his starting eleven, much to the agony of all the speculators. Ivanovic will partner his captain in the centre of defence, while the central midfield has been kept intact. Kakuta will start this game on the right-wing, with Malouda and Anelka occupying the other two places up front.
Chelsea Starting Eleven: Cech, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Essien, Mikel, Kakuta, Malouda and Anelka
1. Chelsea has conceded just two goals in the league this season – at Upton Park and at the City of Manchester Stadium.
2. Nine sides took points off Chelsea last season, and after Saturday’s match Ancelotti’s men will have faced four of them in the opening eight matches.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Gael Kakuta (Chelsea)
In the last two months, the emergence of Joshua McEachran from within the ranks has grabbed all the media headlines. His precocious talent, combined with his nationality, has seen the press go into a frenzy. This has certainly helped Gael Kakuta. Among other things, this shift in focus spared the young Frenchman of having to bear the brunt of all the expectations alone – Joshua was now here to share the burden with him.
Away from the spotlight, Kakuta has already started in a Champions League game, and tomorrow he will make his full Premiership debut at Villa Park. There has never been any doubt in his abilities as a player, but maybe, all the expectations were pulling him down – there was just too much pressure and one could feel that whenever the demunitive attacker took the field. He should approach tomorrow’s game without any kind of pressure and enjoy his football – after all, this is what his manager also expects from him.
Aston Villa 2-3 Chelsea
Despite having a poor record at Villa Park, the visitors may just have enough venom in the armory tomorrow to take all three points from this fixture.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST