Over 100 days have passed since Chelsea last kicked a ball in anger, and in a way, we’re lucky to have had to wait only that long and not, say, twice as long or more to see football on our television screens again. (For the live, in-person experience, we might have to wait until 2021.)
Closed doors aren’t the only changes for Project Restart — with plenty of changes thanks to health and fitness concerns, as well as in response to the greater global events around us — but the one thing that has remained is the need for Chelsea to finish in the top four.
Before the break, Chelsea had won two of three in the league, recording back-to-back home wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Everton to solidify our grip on fourth place. The team’s form had been patchy through the winter, and those wins combined with eliminating Liverpool from the FA Cup, gave hope that the Blues were finding some consistency at long last.
And then the whole world got turned upside down.
How Chelsea will respond to the restart is anyone’s guess. The games that have already been played since Wednesday have largely played into our hands. Arsenal have lost twice already to truly fall out of contention for the top four. Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, and Sheffield United all managed just one point in their first games back, though the latter also play on Sunday, just before the Chelsea game. Meanwhile, ahead of us in third, Leicester City were held to a 1-1 draw by Watford, which means we can close that gap to just three points and keep the gap behind us to at least four points.
To accomplish that, we’ll need to beat relegation-battling Aston Villa, who really should’ve lost to Sheffield United, but infallible goal-line technology failed at a crucial moment. It’s not easy to come back to match fitness even for the technology!
The immediate task at hand is clear. Welcome back; let’s get back to business.
Date / Time: Sunday, June 21, 2020, 16.15 BST; 11:15am EDT; 8:45pm IST
Venue: Villa Park, Birmingham, England
Referee: Paul Tierney (on pitch); Lee Mason (VAR)
Forecast: Sunny and warm with a bit of breeze
On TV: Sky Sports Main Event (UK); NBCSN, Telemundo (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); SuperSport 3 (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo (USA); Hotstar (India); DStv Now (NGA)
Aston Villa team news: Long-term knee injury victims Tom Heaton and Wesley remain out, while John McGinn is dealing with the aftereffects of a fractured ankle and may be limited. Bjorn Engels and Frederic Guilbert are expected to miss out as well.
Danny Drinkwater is ineligible as per the terms of his loan, which is yet to be extended beyond June 30.
Villa were lucky to draw 0-0 on Wednesday and remain firmly in the relegation zone at the moment. But that just means they — including assistant coach John Terry — will be fighting and clawing their way to every point possible.
View from the enemy: 7500 to Holte
Chelsea team news: The Blues are much healthier now than before the pandemic, ironically, but it’s not exactly a clean bill still, with Fikayo Tomori and Callum Hudson-Odoi both expected to miss out after picking up knocks in training. Pedro, Reece James, and Andreas Christensen had done so as well, but are probably good to go.
Jorginho is still serving the longest two-game suspension in Premier League history, but the biggest team news is of course the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who’s set for his first appearance in over thirteen months after recovering from a torn Achilles. N’Golo Kanté will be available as well and hopefully finally past all his minor injury issues of the past year.
This is one of the easiest matches left on Chelsea’s nine-match schedule this season, which makes it pretty much a must win.
Previously: Villa had spent the last few seasons in the Championship, so the last we visited Villa Park was towards the end of 2015-16. That was a crap season, but this 4-0 win was not. Incidentally, Chelsea’s first goal that day was scored by Loftus-Cheek, which was also his first ever in the Premier League. Alexandre Pato’s only Chelsea goal doubled our lead before a second-half Pedro brace made sure of the points.