It’s time for that most Premier League of traditions, the Boxing Day fixtures. Three may have been postponed due to the latest COVID outbreaks, but Chelsea’s visit to Aston Villa is set to go ahead as scheduled.
And it’s yet another must-win for the Blues if we are to stay in touch with leaders Manchester City, who are nigh-unstoppable at the moment with eight wins in a row in the league. They’ve opened a three-point lead over Liverpool and a six-point lead on us. That already seems an insurmountable lead, and would only become bigger with further points dropped.
Chelsea spent last Boxing Day unboxing and staring down a 3-1 defeat at the Emirates to Arsenal. Let’s hope our present is a bit nicer this year.
Date / Time: Sunday, December 26, 2021, 17.30 GMT; 12:30pm; 11pm IST
Venue: Villa Park, Birmingham, England
Referee: Martin Atkinson (on pitch); Stuart Attwell (VAR)
Forecast: Rainy and cool
On TV: Sky Sports Main Event (UK); NBC, Telemundo (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); SuperSport MaXimo 1, Canal+ Sport 3 (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo (USA); Hotstar (India); DStv Now (NGA)
Aston Villa team news: Villa last played two weeks ago before a COVID outbreak caused the postponement of last weekend’s match against Burnley. The situation remains fluid and uncertain, but new head coach Steven Gerrard is hopeful that the game will go ahead. Gerrard took over from Dean Smith a little over a month ago, and Villa have won four of his six games in charge, losing only to Manchester City and Liverpool.
In addition to the various COVID concerns, Villa have a few key injuries to deal with as well, including Leon Bailey, Bertrand Traoré, and Marvelous Nakamba. Emiliano Buendía should be back however after the knock he suffered two weeks ago. Gerrard has been setting up in a 4-3-3, with Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings marshaling the defense, John McGinn running the midfield, and Ollie Watkins leading the line and leading their goalscoring charts. They may not be the most spectacular team, but they’re every bit capable of beating any team.
UPDATE: Gerrard himself will however miss out after testing positive.
View from the enemy: 7500 to Holte
Chelsea team news: Undermanned and cobbled-together Chelsea — featuring three (3!) teenagers making their senior debuts, even — advanced to the League Cup semifinals with an excellent 2-0 win over Brentford on Wednesday, and hopefully that win will have also lifted the mood a bit after just one win in five in all competitions and nine points dropped in recent weeks in the league. Of course, the key will be to actually follow that up with a win.
Chelsea’s COVID list has shrunk a bit in recent days, with Romelu Lukaku and Callum Hudson-Odoi both testing out and returning to training. (Timo Werner and Kai Havertz had not.) Andreas Christensen is also back from his injury. They may not be completely match fit yet however — with Mateo Kovačić, N’Golo Kanté probably still in a similar boat. Meanwhile, Jorginho has been dealing with back pain, and both Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Hakim Ziyech have missed time with various knocks. While can’t expect a fully healthy squad in the middle of a grueling season, it sure seems like we’ve had to deal with a constant (if not necessarily unique to just this team) barrage of such issues all season.
Previously: We played Villa twice already this season, winning 3-0 in the league back in September (Lukaku brace plus a Kovačić goal), and prevailing on penalties in the League Cup third round after a 1-1 draw in regulation (Werner scoring). But, the last time we were at Villa Park, at the end of last season, we lost 2-1.