A crucial finishing stretch for Chelsea begins with a road match at Aston Villa. The Blues have two more Premier League matches to secure their Champions League berth for next season with the Europa League final against Benfica sandwiched in between.
The first meeting between the Chelsea and Villa resulted in an 8-0 Blues romp. Fernando Torres scored in the third minute and they were up 3-0 by halftime. Rafa Benitez would love a similar scoring output in the rematch so he can rest a few key players in the second half.
Chelsea must expect far more resistance this time around, though. The Villans are close to securing their spot in the Premier League for next season, a mission they can accomplish with a victory. It should lead to a better effort from Paul Lambert's side.
The fact both clubs are seeking three key points makes for an intriguing match. Here's a look at all the important viewing information followed by some players to watch and a prediction as the Blues and Villans battle in Birmingham.
Where: Villa Park in Birmingham, England
When: Saturday, May 11 at 7:45 a.m. ET
Watch: ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
Aston Villa Player to Watch: Christian Benteke
Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale are the top three goal scorers in the Premier League. While those players are all expected to produce on an elite level, few expected Benteke to rank fourth behind those marquee names in his first season with Villa.
That's exactly what he's done though, racking up 18 goals in 33 league appearances. The breakout campaign came at a perfect time for Villa, which has otherwise struggled to find sources of offense. Without Benteke, their relegation situation is likely far more dire.
The Villans need to get him a lot of touches early to avoid another lopsided defeat. In the last meeting, the Blues were already pulling away before Benteke had a chance to get heavily involved. By then, the Chelsea back line was hunkered down and held the clean sheet.
Chelsea Player to Watch: Juan Mata
After an impressive debut campaign at Chelsea, Mata has enjoyed an even more productive second season. He's developed into one of the league's most complete attacking players and is a vital piece of the Blues' attack.
Mata has always been known for his vision and creativity, so his 18 assists in league play are no surprise. His improvement as a goal scorer is what's taken him to the next level. With defenders forced to respect his shot, it opens up more passes lanes for him to exploit.
Chelsea is going to lean heavily on him over the final stretch to jump-start the attack. The more effective he is in the midfield, the better the club's chances of finishing on a high note after some disappointments earlier in the campaign.
Matchup to Watch: Brad Guzan vs. Petr Cech
Cech remains one of the Premier League's most reliable goalkeepers. His consistency almost causes him to get overlooked amongst the club's other stars. His counterpart in the match will be Guzan, who recently won the club's Player of the Season awards.
Even though Guzan has only recorded five clean sheets, he's spent the entire campaign playing in front of a porous back line. He stepped up throughout the season to secure important points for the Villans and it's turned out they needed every one of them.
Neither club will want to give up an inch with so much on the line. That will put a lot of pressure on the keepers when they do face chances. Whichever one is able to come up with one or two critical stops will likely lead his side to the win.
Chelsea 1, Aston Villa 0