NO CHRISTMAS TREATS FOR VILLA

By Rowan Farnham-Long
Dec 25th, 2007

One game down, three to go in the hectic Christmas and New Year period, a busy time for players, coaches and of course, preview writers. With Newcastle at home on the 29th and Fulham on New Year’s Day, we first must turn our attentions to Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa on Boxing Day. Villa have been a notorious bogey team for Chelsea in recent seasons, but Avram Grant will be looking for change, and maybe a little late Christmas cheer.

The 1-0 win over Blackburn was, as expected, tight and tough rather than stylish and sophisticated but a win is a win nonetheless and it was a great way to start off the festive season. Petr Cech was the only casualty of the Ewood Park battleground, with what looked like a hip injury following a collision with Rovers’ striker Roque Santa Cruz. The physio department will be kept busy over Christmas with back-up ‘keeper Carlo Cudicini picking up a knock in training, while Hilario may find Santa Claus has brought him a starting berth against Villa.

John Terry and Didier Drogba are out while Florent Malouda, well, your guess is as good as mine really.

Villa began their Christmas period with a dour 1-1 draw against the ever-resurgent Manchester City. John Carew won Villa a point with an equaliser and he may well be one to watch at the Bridge this Wednesday afternoon. Villa’s last four goals have come from four different scorers though, but since a 4-0 win over Blackburn almost a month ago, they have not won a game.

Villa have no real injury doubts at the time of writing-other than Curtis Davies, out with a broken nose-but their small squad is beginning to look stretched. The three upcoming games may test O’Neill’s side, and a trip to Stamford Bridge is certainly not what he would have wanted.

However, previous encounters haven’t exactly seen Chelsea at their best. Villa came out on top at Villa Park earlier this season, a 2-0 win over Chelsea early in September marking the beginning of the end for Jose Mourinho, and last season managed to bag a draw in London.

Drogba put the Blues ahead early on but some slack defending let lively winger Gabriel Agbonlahor equalise with a close range header. The last time Chelsea beat Villa in the Premier League was back in September 2005, when a Frank Lampard brace saw off Luke Moore’s shock opener.

Expect changed sides from the weekend’s games, with rotation the key word around this time of year. Let me wish you all a merry Christmas and happy holidays all round, lets hope we can beat Villa and make it a really happy one.

Prediction: Although Villa always seem to provide an upset, they are going through a bad run of form at the moment. If we are going to be serious title contenders we need to start showing it, and capitalising in these types of matches should be the first priority. Villa’s small squad will battle hard, but our swagger should be too much for them. A 2-0 win is on the cards for me.

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