Hopes the Chelsea team has finally turned the corner remain tentative as manager Carlo Ancelotti continues to have problems at the heart of his vulnerable defence.
Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over Bolton brought audible sighs of relief around west London as Chelsea at last found winning form with a determined display that kept their title ambitions within reach.
Victory came at a cost for acting central defender Branislav Ivanisovic who collected his fifth yellow card and will miss the game against Aston Villa on Monday lunchtime.
With first choice centre back Alex out for another month and running out of options, Ancelotti will be forced to call on 19-year-old Jeffrey Bruma to partner John Terry in the middle of defence.
They will need to be on their mettle against experienced striker Emile Heskey and lightning quick Gabby Agbonlahor who will be out to test Chelsea’s resolve which has looked fragile at times during the last two difficult months.
Heskey has shaken off his twisted ankle and manager Gerard Houllier is expected to look to the former England striker to help him turn around Villa’s own flagging fortunes.
Five defeats in six games hava left Villa facing a relegation battle for the remainder of the season, they lie in 16th position just two points ahead of bottom placed Wolverhampton.
Houllier has his fingers crossed that winger Ashley Young will be fit to take on the champions, he hasn’t figured in the last two games with a knee problem and his attacking threat has been badly missed.
Possible starting line ups:
CHELSEA: Cech, Bosingwa, Terry, Bruma, Cole, Lampard, Ramires, Essien, Malouda, Anelka, Drogba.
ASTON VILLA: Friedel, Lichaj, Collins, Cuellar, Warnock, Albrighton, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Downing, Ashley Young, Agbonlahor.
2/7 Chelsea with Paddy Power
5/1 Draw with Victor Chandler
14/1 Aston Villa with Betfred