Injury hit Chelsea will look to keep their spot at the top of the Premiership table when they face Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Luis Felipe Scolari’s men, who drew with Romania’s CFR Cluj in their midweek European fixture, lead the standings with 14 points from six. But with fifth placed West Ham just two points behind them, Chelsea need to stick to their winning ways. There are big injury worries for Chelsea. The midfield duo of Michael Essien and Joe Cole are unavailable due to injury. Didier Drogba was stretchered off against Cluj and will have no role to play in this fixture. Defensive rock Ricardo Carvalho has not recovered from his medial ligament damage. There were also doubts over John Terry and Ashley Cole, but the England duo are expected to start. Centreback Alex is also a doubt, and Branislav Ivanovic will have to step in if required. In the absence of Drogba, Joe Cole, Salomon Kalou and Nicolas Anelka are Scolari’s best attacking options.
Aston Villa rested six first team regulars against Litex Lovech, and the 1-1 draw against the Bulgarians was enough for Martin O’Neill’s men to progress to the group stages of the UEFA Cup. Zat Knight and Carlos Cuellar, who played together in the heart of defence against Litex, may have to do with a spot on the bench as O’Neill reverts to his preferred central pairing of Curtis Davies and Martin Laursen. Gareth Barry and Stilian Petrov will be up against Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel in the centre of the park. Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor will provide the pace required,with towering Norwegian striker John Carew expected to use his massive frame upfront.
Last season’s corresponding fixture was an eight goal thriller, with Zat Knight, Ricardo Carvalho and Ashley Cole all given the marching orders by referee Phil Dowd. Andriy Shevchenko, who grabbed a brace in that game, has returned to Italy. Both Laursen and Barry were on target for Villa in that game. Chelsea have not been defeated in their last 85 home games- an incredible record. Should Villa win this, they could go on top of the Premiership. We’ll probably see a high scoring draw 2-2. Agbonlahor and Carew to score for Villa, Lampard and Cole for Chelsea.