After a nice stretch in which it won three straight games over FC Nordsjaelland, Sunderland and Monterrey by a combined score of 12-3, Chelsea suffered a bit of a wake-up call when it dropped that 1-0 contest to Corinthians. Following its matchup in the Capital One Cup quarterfinals against Leeds United, this will be its chance to get back on the right track in Premier League action.
The Lions, meanwhile, are riding a nice six-game unbeaten streak of their own—they haven't lost since absorbing a 5-0 shellacking at the hands of Manchester City on Nov. 17, and most recently, they've taken down Norwich City and Liverpool by a combined score of 7-2.
They certainly are not going to make it easy for the Blues.
Where: Stamford Bridge
When: Sunday, Dec. 23 at 11 a.m. ET
Watch: Sky Sports
Live Stream: Sky Sports (for purchase without a subscription)
Top Storyline: Can Aston Villa Capitalize on Chelsea's recent struggles?
The Lions may be in 14th place in the Premier League standings, but you wouldn't know it by the way they've been playing. It's been over a month since they last lost a match, and after a somewhat shocking win over Liverpool last week, it's now clear that a win isn't a given for Chelsea.
But even considering the Blues loss to Corinthians, a loss would be a shock. They're currently in third place in the standings with 29 points, 11 ahead of Aston Villa in the table.
Manager Paul Lambert still has faith in his team, no matter what it faces—that's how it pulled off its last big win, despite having just one win in its last 16 road games. After that 3-1 win over Liverpool, he told The Guardian, "It is a question of holding your nerve and we did that. The back three were terrific for us in how they put their bodies on the line."
Chelsea Player to Watch: Oscar
Rumors at Chelsea are swirling that there's some sort of issue between the Brazilian defender and manager Rafael Benitez after the player's role was diminished in the Club World Cup final, but the manager says it's not so. He told ESPN that his playing-time decisions have nothing to do with Oscar and that he simply is managing his club as he sees fit. Benitez said:
Oscar is a very good lad and a professional. His reaction has been very positive.
If you analyze, the problem we had is playing with 11 players in the majority of games and we had to change this. We can't carry on playing the same players.
We'll see whether is role is more than a "cameo" appearance against Aston Villa.
Aston Villa Player to Watch: Ashley Westwood
Lambert isn't shy when it comes to singing the praises of Westwood. The midfielder, a summer transfer from Crewe Alexandra, has apparently had no trouble transitioning to his new home, and Lambert even compared him to top midfielder Paul Scholes.
That's high praise, right? Maybe, but Lambert simply believes in his player's potential.
The manager told ESPN.com:
The biggest compliment I can give is he is like a mini-Scholes at the moment. The way he is performing is that impressive.
Thus far, Westwood has two assists on three shots in 10 games with the Lions.
What They're Saying
Who's your pick to win?
For a long time, many criticized Lambert for trying to win with such a young and unestablished team—but the success he's had lately is making some people think twice about what he's doing.
The season may have started off rough, but lately, Lambert's faith has been rewarded with a six-game unbeaten streak and a big win over Liverpool. It's difficult not to look at this team twice after that, writes Michael Cox of ESPN FC. Maybe there is something to Lambert's strategy:
It's not unusual for an incoming manager to sprinkle his new side with youngsters, but it's difficult to remember a modernization as dramatic as Paul Lambert’s at Aston Villa. … Lambert's faith in youth is paying off after a difficult start to the season.
Meanwhile, this story is making the rounds in a big way: The Chelsea players and staff are in a bit of hot water after the Brazilian website Globoesporte found an instruction sheet regarding tactics in their dressing room following their Club World Cup final loss, according to The Guardian.
Chelsea, according to The Guardian, "have reminded their staff and players to be more vigilant so not allow any internal team instructions to be revealed in the future."
The "crumpled" piece of paper, according to The Guardian, was left in a garbage bin. Hopefully, the club doesn't leave another tactics sheet lying around regarding the game plan against Aston Villa.
Last but not least, Chelsea tweeted about the Christmas surprises that await fans of all ages at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, just two days before Christmas:
Aston Villa 1