Chelsea didn't get the result they wanted in a draw with Tottenham earlier in the week, but the Blues have a crucial stretch over the next week or so to decide their Champions League fate for next season.
It starts with a road match at Aston Villa.
The Blues destroyed Aston Villa in December in the first leg of this matchup at Stamford Bridge, putting eight goals on the board and dismantling their opponent to the tune of an 8-0 finish. Eager to make up for that defeat and keep the Blues from a top-four finish, Aston Villa comes into the match a better team than they were in December.
Villa can also wrap up a spot in the Premier League next season with a win, further raising a stakes of a match between two teams at different ends of the EPL table.
With two matches to go in the Aston Villa season, expect Villa Park to be rocking on Saturday afternoon against one of Europe's surging clubs.
The stakes are well higher for Chelsea, needing every point they can get toward the Premier League table and the Champions League bid, and a road match like this is a huge proving ground for a club eager to make the 2014 Champions League and gain some momentum for the Europa League final.
What: Aston Villa vs. Chelsea
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
|2013 EPL TABLE (as of May 10)|
The big story for Chelsea, aside from needing the full three points in the chase for a top-four spot in the table, is the decision by Rafa Benitez to start the club's most noticeable player—Frank Lampard—on Saturday afternoon. Chelsea announced that Lampard's one-game start would be re-evaluated before Chelsea's other fixtures later in the month:
Chelsea FC @ChelseaFC
RB: 'Lampard will play against Aston Villa, and after we have to decide the team for the final.' #CFC2013-5-9 13:03:48
The Blues had a disappointing finish against Tottenham and only took home one point after the draw, but all things considered, avoiding a loss to the Spurs gives the Blues both some late momentum and motivation to avoid a defeat on the road—where they have dropped three of their last six matches.
For Aston Villa the storyline will be about getting back into EPL play, but the bigger one will be about captain Stiliyan Petrov. After announcing his retirement on Thursday (h/t BBC), he will be honored at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon it what should be the ultimate show of respect and emotion for the home crowd.
Petrov was diagnosed with acute leukemia in March of last year.
When that ceremony is over the two clubs will battle it out on the pitch. Expect Juan Mata and star striker Demba Ba to carry the Blues in the Villa end, as the pair have both been playing well of late and are must-starts for Benitez.
Lampard has 12 career goals against Aston Villa, too, and the longtime Blues captain could hold that honor again and continue his goal climb with another score against Villa on Saturday afternoon.
It won't be easy, though, as Villa have been a different side since the December thrashing. Andreas Weimann has been one of the most improved players in Europe this season, and he and the rest of the Villa front line will look to continue their recent five-win in eight-match streak.
It should be a thriller on Saturday morning, not indicative of the table standings at all.
|Chelsea (#)||Aston Villa (#)|
|Petr Cech (1)||Bradley Edwin Guzan (22)|
|John Terry (26)||Nathan Baker (32)|
|Gary Cahill (24)||Ron Vlaar (4)|
|Ashley Cole (3)||Eric Joseph Bradley Lichaj (30)|
|Cesar Azpilicueta (28)||Joe Bennett (27)|
|Frank Lampard (8)||Ashley Westwood (15)|
|John Obi Mikel (12)||Fabian Delph (16)|
|Juan Mata (10)||Andreas Weimann (26)|
|Oscar (11)||Yacouba Sylla (18)|
|Demba Ba (29)||Christian Benteke (20)|
|Victor Moses (13)||Gabriel Imuetinyan Agbonlahor (11)|
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