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Ancelotti’s first ‘final’ offers chance to show Chelsea are back in business

chelsea carlo ancelotti

By Joe Carrol.

With the Italian not getting too carried away, the Chelsea players will have to bear in mind that Saturday’s opponents in claret and blue will provide a much sterner test, and will offer the Blues an opportunity to really make a statement of intent.  Should they win the game tomorrow, the Sunday papers will make for much more comfortable reading for Chelsea fans- should they lose, and the tabloids and broadsheets will only contribute in adding overwhelming pressure to the subsequent top of the table clash with Manchester United.

Whilst Villa have already beaten Chelsea this season (a 2-1 reverse at Villa Park in October) they themselves will come to the Bridge with a number of key players nursing injuries.  The midweek draw to Sunderland looks to have cost the Villains more than just precious points, as home fans had to endure the pain-stricken figure of star performer James Milner hobbling from the field of play.  Whilst joint leading scorer Gabby Agbonlahor had to watch from the stands, more woe was lumped into O’Neill’s arms as Richard Dunne and Emile Heskey added themselves to the injury list with achilles problems.

With the visitors potentially without four of their star performers, Chelsea should fancy themselves taking all three points even more than they would have.  The likes of Agbonlahor, Milner and Dunne were at the heart of the side that pinched 3 points from under the nose of Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford earlier in the season, and with a fully fit squad there would be the potential of a similar upset at the Bridge.  Now at the business end of the season, it is neither the time nor the manner of potential champions to feel sorry for a team on its knees (as they proved on Wednesday night) and it is important for Chelsea’s team of stars to capitalise on the misfortunes of others, and put the Villains to the sword.

With leading goalscorer Didier Drogba reaching the 30 goal mark in a season for the second time in a Chelsea shirt, fans should be confident that the Ivorian will go on to bag even more- and Stamford Bridge will be the venue for him to cement his place at the top of the scoring charts.  Speaking after his side’s midweek win, Drogba believes the tide has turned, and that his side have finally come through their difficult spell and also pinpoints the game at Old Trafford next week as vital:

“You always have difficult moments like this in the season and our difficult moment just didn’t come at the right time.

It is just important for us to win all the games, and go to Old Trafford with a lot of confidence and try to win something there.”

Chelsea fan’s, although realising that the fixture at Old Trafford will be a decisive game, will hope that Drogba’s words do not suggest that the Chelsea dressing room are looking past tomorrows encounter with Champions League hopefuls Villa.  While the visitors may be weakened tomorrow, they will be non the less resilient and desperate to win themselves as they spy 4th spot.

Team News:

Chelsea fans can expect a similar line up to the one that faced Portsmouth on Wednesday.  One man who will definitely be absent is Ricardo Carvalho who is expected to be missing from action for four weeks.  However, one man’s ill luck is another man’s fortune, and Brazilian Alex is expected to replace the Portuguese defender.  Tomorrow’s game will come too early for Branislav Ivanovich, but the defender may be available for the Manchester United game.  The good news for Chelsea fans is that Michael Ballack sould return to the squad tomorrow.  The German had missed the last two games with an achilles problem.

As mentioned earlier, Agbonlahor, Milner, Heskey and Dunne are all doubts, but being such a big game, O’Neill will want to give his best players every chance of returning and will not likely make a decision on their selection until moments before kick-off.  Long term victims Marlon Harwood and Nigel Reo-Coker make up the rest of Villa’s injury list.

Possible Line-Ups:

Chelsea: Cech, Zhirkov, Alex, Terry, Ferreira, Malouda, Lampard, Mikel, Ballack, Anelka, Drogba.

Aston Villa: Friedel, Cuellar, Collins, Beye, Warnock, Downing, Young, Sidwell, Petrov, Carew, Delfouneso

Victory here would speak volumes for the upcoming games at Old Trafford and Wembley; games which will have huge bearings on both of Chelsea league and cup ambitions.  How tough a test will Villa prove to be?  How big a signal of intent will victory be ahead of the Old Trafford clash?…please leave your comments below.

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