Time: 5:30 PM BST (9:30 AM PST), Saturday October 16th.
Location: Villa Park, Birmingham
Preamble: LWLDDDLDDD. That, for those not in the know, is Chelsea's record away against Villa over the past ten seasons. Thirty possible points, nine earned. Yikes. Last year's trip to Birmingham wasn't exactly a shining moment in our double-winning season - not only did the Blues lose 2-1 thanks to atrocious set-piece defending, but they also lost their first choice right-back to a long term knee injury. Jose Bosingwa is back with the squad for the first time since last October, and we'll be hoping that his return brings better fortune to the team than did his departure. Unfortunately for the Blues, they're plagued by a host of other injuries - at least four first-choice players are missing and John Terry is barely fit. It doesn't look like the best of conditions to reverse the trend at Villa Park, but it's what we've got, so let's make the best of it.Opposition: Aston Villa have long been a bastion of 4-4-2, and they played it pretty well under ex-manager Martin O'Neill thanks to midfield stalwarts like James Milner and Gareth Barry. Both players are now at City and O'Neill has departed for pastures yet unknown, leaving new gaffer Gerard Houllier the somewhat less imposing options of Stiliyan Petrov, Stephan Ireland, Nigel Reo-Coker, and Steve Sidwell. This has been somewhat problematic for the team, as Ireland is incapable of playing 4-4-2, Petrov has regressed to total inadequacy, and the latter two were already there*. Making matters worse are selection issues at striker as well - Villa can normally boast a nasty combination of the speed and skill of Gabriel Agbonlahor and the power and aerial threat of John Carew. Carew hasn't been himself this year, and Agbonlahor is current laid up with an injury - we're likely to see Carew up front with Ashley Young operating just behind him.
Young is a much happier note for the Villans, who are host to a... host of excellent English wingers. Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton are both very good players, but Ashley Young is pretty close to unplayable when he's on, which is frequently. He's moved off the wings as of late, but he's still one of the most dangerous crossers in the league, which would be significantly more worrying if Carew if was on form**. If Villa do penetrate the Chelsea defence, it's almost a lock that Young will be at the heart of the move.
Aston Villa's back line hasn't been nearly as watertight as last year, but they've been experiencing injury concerns as well as a decline in the abilities of their ostensible midfield shield. We should be looking at a defence featuring Stephen Warnock,
Carlos Cuellar, James Collins, and Luke Young, all of whom are good but not spectacular players. Richard Dunne, normally their best player on that end of the pitch, is expected to miss the match, which yayyyyy. Dunne is playing which :(.
Chelsea: We've got lineups announced already. Petr Cech starts in goal, with Ashley Cole, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, and Paulo Ferreira in defence. Terry missed the England match with back spasms, and isn't really fit, but without including Terry Ancelotti would have had a major selection problem on his hands, with no other centre-back able to play. Ferreira might theoretically have been able to fill in, but putting him against John Carew is just asking for a headache. So, Terry's being committed to play despite still being hurt, which isn't a long-term recipe for success. Jose Bosingwa starts on the bench, which is a huge boost to the team. His return to fitness will eventually allow Ivanovic to spend more time spelling the centrebacks and ensure that Ferreira doesn't see the field very often.
Midfield will feature the Mikel-Michael Essien-Ramires trio that we've become accustomed to as of late, with Frank Lampard's return to the first team delayed by another fortnight. I was hoping to see Yuri Zhirkov in Ramires's spot, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over the Brazilian earning a third start on the trot. He was pretty effective against Arsenal and shouldn't have a problem with either Petrov or Reo-Coker.
The biggest news going into the match is that Didier Drogba is not going to feature at all. He's been ill all week and unable to train, which means a start in the centre for Nicolas Anelka while his compatriot Gael Kakuta will be deployed on the right. Drogba was the goalscorer last season at Villa park, but the team is capable of winning without him - the last time he wasn't used in a game against Villa, the Blues won by six. It's unlikely that they'll win by such a wide margin this time, but the team being sent out tomorrow should be more than capable of getting a result.
Stat Report: I have this as a 2-1 win for the good guys. Villa's offence has hardly set the world on fire this season, and the Blues should have the firepower to put a couple of balls in Brad Friedel's net.
* This is being unfair to Reo-Coker but I like that sentence and I'm not going to change it.
** Sorry for guaranteeing a Carew goal.