If there is a silver lining to the dark clouds around Chelsea at the moment perhaps the brutal demands of the Premier League’s festive fixture list give Frank Lampard a chance to move on from his side’s woeful display in a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal on Boxing Day.
Less than 48 hours later Chelsea host Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge having slipped below their visitors on goal difference. Villa have won three and drawn the other of their last four games and tore through Crystal Palace on Boxing Day with the sort of counter-attacking football that has become their forte this season.
Chelsea: Frank Lampard’s decision to lay the blame for the defeat at the Emirates Stadium squarely at the feet of his players was certainly a risky strategy, the coming matches will show whether it has paid off. “I’m not sure complacency was the right word but there was definitely a lethargic approach to the first half – no matter if you were playing Arsenal, who were in a tough moment and have quality players, or any team in the Premier League,” he said in his post-match press conference.
“You can’t turn up with that lethargic [approach]. I’m concerned about what’s at the bottom of it but I’m not sure it’s definitely complacency.” Certainly Lampard will have the chance to freshen up his team and has already indicated that more than half of his side will change for the visit of Villa to Stamford Bridge. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Olivier Giroud are among those expected to start.
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Aston Villa: Where rotation is a natural decision for Lampard after his side’s losing run, Dean Smith faces a more intriguing balancing act as he attempts to keep his side fresh without losing the core of the team that has been in such fine fettle recently. The suspended Tyrone Mings will be sorely missed even if Kortney Hause offers an impressive alternative.
Should Chelsea find their way through a defense that held out impressively against Crystal Palace even when down in numbers, they will face a goalkeeper who has continued to bolster his reputation as one of the Premier League’s finest since leaving Aston Villa. Emiliano Martinez has conceded four goals fewer than the expected goals tally of the shots he has faced – the third best record in the division – and leads the race for the Golden Glove with eight to his name.
Sometimes it is best to back the hot hand. Villa are in a superb vein of form and have already devastated many a big six team with their counter-attacking. Chelsea beware. PICK: Aston Villa (+375)