Aston Villa. Two points ahead of Chelsea in the table? Are you f**king kidding me?
No. That is, in fact, the case as the clubs prepare for a crucial encounter at Villa Park on Saturday. The Villains sit in third on 51 points, while our beloved Blues have fallen all the way to fourth (49). Oh the humanity.
And this match takes on even more meaning than just Champions League places. Saturday will mark the debut of interim manager Guus Hiddink, and it will no doubt go a long way in establishing his identity at the club. Hiddink, who just today said he'll be happy to return to Russia after this season is over, has his reputation, fairly or unfairly, on the line with Chelsea.
If today's press conference is any indication, Hiddink knows this.
"Of course my role is a challenge but we are still in three competitions – Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup," he said. "We're 10 points down on Manchester United, which will be very difficult but we will give it a try. Things can change in a few minutes. I've made up that ground before in a different league. With PSV (Eindhoven), we were not that worried but there were some narrow escapes in the last few seasons.
"In the other two competitions Chelsea are still in the race. That's the challenge. I'm not just here to pass time until the end of the season. The players are used to winning trophies so let's try and repeat it. If they don't, you can't be happy."
That all starts at Villa. In the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. This clash will prove to be much different. Villa, despite a dip in form -- at least outside the league -- over the past few weeks, has been on a tear of late. The Villains are unbeaten in 13 Premiership games. To add to their confidence, Chelsea hasn't won in its last nine trips to Villa Park.
We shouldn't really expect that record to play a role Saturday, however, with Hiddink taking charge and the initial response from the players. The initial reaction to Hiddink's appointment has been extremely positive with players such as Anelka, Ballack, Cech and Drogba, who criticized Uncle Phil, vocally backing the Dutchman. Training also looks to have jumped up a notch.
This all bodes well for one of Chelsea's most pressing periods of the season. Up next for the Blues will be the first leg of their Champions League tie with Juventus before a weekend tilt with revitalized Wigan.
How Hiddink will line this side up is still up in the air. It's been said he's leaning toward a 4-4-2 formation headed by Anelka and Drogba. Michael Mancienne could start his second consecutive match, while Paulo Ferreira will step in for the suspended Ashley Cole at left fullback. Who's going to be frozen out of the midfield. My guess is Ricardo Quaresma, who after just joining the club, already looks on his way out.
Aston Villa will have former Chelsea player Steve Sidwell back in the mix following suspension and could add both Emile Heskey and James Milner to the fold. Zat Knight should be in from the start in the center of defense -- a great sign for Chelsea supporters.
So the Hiddink era begins, shockingly just a few months after another era began. This is getting ridiculous. Let's just hope this one is one for the future. Up the Blues!