Saturday October 16th 2010
Venue: Villa Park
Kick Off: 17:30
Gerard Houllier faces his toughest test to date as manager of Aston Villa as the club play host to League Champions, Chelsea. Many Villa fans will look back in dread at the crushing 7-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge last season but Villa have plenty to be optimistic about this time around. In the same fixture last term the home side made one of their best performances of the season to spring a shock 2-1 victory over Carlo Ancelotti’s men. Goals from centre back’s, James Collins and Richard Dunne were enough to overturn an early Didier Drogba goal, a man who is missing this time around.
Villa’s record against Chelsea at home is one of the best in the league having only lost once in the last 10 years against the Blues. Houllier will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing result despite a decent performance at Tottenham and will be buoyed when hearing the Chelsea injury list. Key players Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are out of the tie though Captain John Terry has shaken off the injury that kept him out of international duty. His usual partner this term has been Alex after the departure of Ricardo Carvalho but the Brazilian is also absent with a thigh problem. Joining them on the treatment table are Salomon Kalou (thigh) and Yossi Benayoun (achilles). The visitors main threat will come from French duo Anelka and Malouda with the latter having started this campaign in the same scintillating form he ended the last. The current Champions have set off at a strong pace this year with a 4 point gap between themselves and 2nd place Manchester City, the only side to have taken any points from the Blues this season.
Villa have injury worries of their own especially in the attacking department with injuries to Emile Heskey and Gabby Agbonlahor meaning that John Carew is all but certain to start. The Norwegian is yet to score for Villa this season but did get back to goal-scoring ways whilst away on international duty last week. Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton appear to have both overcome niggles to be in contention for a starting berth and Albrighton is relishing the challenge of Ashley Cole. It will be interesting to see how he fares against the player he described as the best left back in the world. No real defensive absentees barring Curtis Davies who embarked on a short month long loan spell at Leicester City today. Dunne and Collins should keep their places as starting centre backs with the former making a terrific comeback against Tottenham last time out. This means that Carlos Cuellar may well have to settle for a place on the bench alongside new signing Stephen Ireland after an impressive return to form from Nigel Reo-Coker.
Many neutrals will overlook Villa and see the humiliation at Stamford Bridge last season as their reasoning. What many forget is that up until half time Villa matched Chelsea in the game with a late goal in the 1st half doing for O’Neill’s side. The tie represented a rare blemish to an otherwise excellent defensive record and the same won’t happen again at Villa Park though one would assume that Houllier would be more than happy with a point.
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