All of a sudden, it seems that every game is a big game for Chelsea.
It will be no different on Sunday when the Blues welcome Aston Villa to west London where rain is in the forecast for this day-before Christmas Eve match.
Who: Chelsea vs. Aston Villa
What: English Premier League, Week 18
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England, UK
When: Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast
Time: 16:00 p.m. GMT/11:00 a.m. ET/8:00 a.m. PT
Television: Fox Soccer Channel, FOX Deportes (US), Sky Sports 1/HD (UK)
Worldwide Live Streams and TV Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
Radio: SiriusXM Satellite Radio channel 94 (Internet 94)
Referee: Phil Dowd
3-Way Odds: Chelsea -325, Aston Villa +900, Draw +300
2-Way Odds: Chelsea -1½ -110, Aston Villa +1½, -110
Total: Over 3 -115, Under 3 -105
Source: LVH SuperBook (Las Vegas, Nevada, USA)
Decimal Odds: Chelsea 1.34, Aston Villa 8.00, Draw 5.00
Decimal Total: Over 2½ 1.50, Under 2½ 2.40
Fractional Odds: Chelsea 17/50, Aston Villa 7/1, Draw 4/1
Fractional Total: Over 2½ 1/2, Under 2½ 7/5
Source: sportsbook.com (Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles)
Chelsea will certainly have revenge on its minds in this one after losing to the Lions, 3-1, in this fixture on New Year's Eve last season at Stamford Bridge, as Stiliyan Petrov and Darren Bent both scored in the final seven minutes to help knock the Blues out of the top four.
Strangely enough, a loss here by Chelsea (29 points) combined with potential wins by fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur (29 points, vs. Stoke City), fifth-place Arsenal (27 points, at Wigan Athletic), sixth-place Everton (27 points at West Ham United) and seventh-place West Bromwich Albion (27 points, vs. Norwich City) could again knock the third-place Blues out of the top four in the English Premier League table.
If somehow all four of those teams should win and Chelsea loses, the European champions will suddenly find themselves all the way down in seventh place.
If so, can you imagine the headlines in London on Monday morning?
After securing just seven points and one win in its last eight league games, winning consistently has become a problem of sorts for the club which saw Roberto Di Matteo lose his job and Rafael Benítez brought in to try to stop the leaking.
Heading into this one, 14th-place Aston Villa (4-6-7) is on a nice little roll of its own, going unbeaten in its last six in all competitions, 2-3-0, in its last five games in the Premier League and making it to the semifinals of the Capital One Cup where they will play League Two upstart Bradford City.
Despite its' recent success, the Claret and Blue have scored just 15 goals in 17 EPL games, have only two scorers with more than two goals—Christian Benteke (5) and Andreas Weimann (3)—and have won just twice on the road over their last 16 games.
Villa manager Paul Lambert has his young squad headed in the right direction but still just three points from the relegation zone (15), so it's too soon to say the Lions (18) should really be feared away from home where they have scored only seven goals—almost half of those in last weekend's 3-1 upset win over Liverpool at Anfield.
One area Villa has been pretty splendid lately is defensively where American goalkeeper Brad Guzan has allowed just three goals in the club's last six contests, so Chelsea will have to be at its best at The Bridge to earn a win.
Although many in west London believe the sky is falling, the Blues (8-5-3) still only have three losses four months into the season and have allowed the third-least number of goals (17) thanks to the usual spectacular play of goalkeeper Petr Čech.
On Wednesday, Chelsea advanced to the semifinals of the Capital One Cup and a date with Swansea City after scoring five goals in the second half to defeat Leeds United at Elland Road as Juan Mata, Branislav Ivanović, Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres all found the back of the net.
The new-look Blues are slowly getting used to playing together and with Frank Lampard back and healthy from his calf injury, defender Gary Cahill able to return for this one after FIFA decided against extending his red-card ban for kicking Corinthians' Emerson in last Sunday's Club World Cup final defeat and John Terry very close to being ready, Benítez will be working with an increasingly confident, deep and talented roster.
One guy who won't be available on Sunday is defensive midfielder John Obi Mikel, who will be serving the last game of his three-game ban.
Offensively, Chelsea should be able to score at least a couple of goals against the Lions in front of its home crowd in this one while likely holding Villa to either one or zero goals.
The sporadic nature of both teams this season means anything could happen, but the Blues can ill-afford even a draw here so expect them to find a way to get the job done and reward their fans with a nice three-point Christmas present.
Despite the possible rainy weather, there should be at least three goals scored in this fixture as the two meetings between these two last season saw a combined 10 goals. Chelsea has also now scored an impressive 17 goals in its last five games.
For the home team, one thing is certain: This is a game they can't afford to lose and the last thing Blues' fans want at this point in time is a claret-and-blue lump of coal in their stockings right before Christmas.
BETS: Chelsea -1½ -110, Over 2½ -200
PREDICTION: Chelsea 3 Aston Villa 1
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