Chelsea - Aston Villa Preview: Benitez looking for response after Club World Cup disappointment
The Blues lost to Corinthians to miss out on being crowned the world club champions, but are hoping to get their domestic hopes back on track against the in-form Villans
By Tom J Doyle
Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Cole
Moses, Mata, Hazard
Lowton, Baker, Lichaj, Clark
Ireland, Westwood, Holman, Bannan
Gary Cahill, John Obi Mikel and Ramires are all available for Chelsea after returning from suspension, and will likely take up places in the starting XI for Rafa Benitez's side.
John Terry (knee) is back in training but has no return date yet, with Benitez unsure if the captain will be fit for any festive fixtures. Daniel Sturridge may miss out again, while Oriol Romeu (knee) is out until at least next June with a serious injury.
Gabriel Agbonlahor (thigh) should be fit in time to feature for Villa at Stamford Bridge, and Stephen Ireland is set to return to the first team after missing the win over Liverpool through illness.
However, Villa have a number of other players battling to be fit for Sunday's clash - Darren Bent (knee), Richard Dunne (groin), Ron Vlaar (calf) and Stiliyan Petrov (leukaemia) have no return dates as yet, while midfielder Craig Gardner (knee) is out until May.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Chelsea's 7-1 victory over Aston Villa in 2010 was the Villans' biggest ever Premier League defeat.
- Aston Villa have only won once in their last 10 visits to Stamford Bridge, but that win came last season as the Villans claimed a surprise 3-1 victory.
- Rafael Benitez has only lost once in 12 matches against Aston Villa as a Premier League manager, winning seven and drawing four.
- Juan Mata (pictured, right) has scored four goals in his last five games in all competitions for Chelsea.
- The Blues have used 20 players in the Premier League this season, fewer than any other side in the division.
- Andreas Weimann has scored five goals in his last six games for Villa in all competitions.
- No other referee has given more penalties (five) this season than Phil Dowd, who will officiate the game on Sunday.
- Chelsea's Eden Hazard has 22 assists since the beginning of the 2011-12 season - more than any other player in the top five European leagues.
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Top 3 Predictions
Chelsea FC 3-1 Aston Villa
- 19.16 %
Chelsea FC 3-0 Aston Villa
- 11.09 %
Chelsea FC 2-0 Aston Villa
- 9.47 %
|Premier League (EPL)||21 Aug 2013||Chelsea FC 2 - Aston Villa 1|
|Premier League (EPL)||11 May 2013||Aston Villa 1 - Chelsea FC 2|
|Premier League (EPL)||23 Dec 2012||Chelsea FC 8 - Aston Villa 0|
|Premier League (EPL)||31 Mar 2012||Aston Villa 2 - Chelsea FC 4|
|Premier League (EPL)||31 Dec 2011||Chelsea FC 1 - Aston Villa 3|
|4 Dec 2013||Sunderland 3 - Chelsea FC 4||EPL|
|1 Dec 2013||Chelsea FC 3 - Southampton 1||EPL|
|26 Nov 2013||Basel 1 - Chelsea FC 0||UCL|
|23 Nov 2013||West Ham 0 - Chelsea FC 3||EPL|
|9 Nov 2013||Chelsea FC 2 - West Bromwich Albion 2||EPL|
|8||Karim El Ahmadi||Midfielder|
|21||Jordan Nathaniel Bowery||Striker|
The Brazilian defender has been gaining more column inches of late as Benitez appears to be attempting to turn him into a deep-lying midfielder in the wake of Oriol Romeu's long-term knee injury. He performed well there against Monterrey in the Club World Cup semi-final, but may return to central defence on Sunday. The 25-year-old often treads a fine line between the fantastic and farcical in the back line, but will have to be on top form to prevent Christian Benteke from bullying him into submission. Luiz can afford no lapses in concentration, otherwise Chelsea's title challenge may be dealt a hammer blow.
All eyes may be on Christian Benteke leading the line for Paul Lambert's side at the moment, but Andreas Weimann has also been in scintillating form. The Austrian netted twice against Norwich in the Capital One Cup as Villa saw off the Canaries in a 4-1 victory, while he combined brilliantly with Benteke against Liverpool and nabbed a goal himself as the Villans ran out 3-1 winners at Anfield. His ability to find time and space in the area will unsettle Gary Cahill and David Luiz, and his intelligence means Benteke will have good support at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea will be hurting after losing the Club World Cup to Corinthians in disappointing fashion, but Rafa Benitez will be urging his players to prove their quality with a return to form on the domestic front, having convincingly beaten Leeds in the Capital One Cup in midweek. However, Aston Villa will prove problematic after going unbeaten in six games, including last Saturday's impressive 3-1 victory at Liverpool. Nevertheless, the Blues should have enough quality to dispatch Paul Lambert's side and keep the chase on for the Premier League title, but with John Terry still likely to be out, it would not be surprising to see Villa leaving Stamford Bridge with a point or more.
Times In BST
Live Final scheduled Suspended Cancelled Postponed