Chelsea will fancy their chances when they travel from London to Birmingham to face rock-bottom Aston Villa at Villa Park on Saturday.
The Blues are 10th in the standings and remain undefeated in the Premier League under Guus Hiddink, going 14 league matches without suffering defeat but exiting the Champions League at the hands of PSG before Everton dumped them out of the FA Cup.
Villa, meanwhile, look destined for relegation as they remain nine points below second-last Newcastle and 12 away from safety. Six defeats on the trot saw manager Remi Garde sacked, and there will be little hope for improvement under caretaker boss Eric Black, their third manager of the season.
“I can understand the frustrations of the fans,” Black said ahead of the match. It’s been an enormously difficult time for a fantastic football club.
“We have to get a bit of credibility back and get everyone associated with the club starting to feel a bit of pride again in Villa. I have been given the opportunity to take the club forward. That’s what I will do to the best of my ability.”
While Villa’s hopes of avoiding the drop are fading fast, Hiddink admitted that the Blues have nothing to play for in the remaining weeks, but still expects an interesting encounter against a team with a point to prove.
“We now have eight games coming up and to be honest there is not much to win for Chelsea anymore,” the Dutch coach said. “[Villa] were playing with ambition against Swansea. When there is a change there is automatically a reaction. We can expect an entertaining game tomorrow.
Although the reigning champions managed just four wins in their first 14 league matches, one of those was a routine 2-0 success over the Villans at Stamford Bridge back in October, and they will expect nothing less than to put another nail in Villa’s coffin.
Villa will hope to have Micah Richards (groin strain), Jack Grealish (ankle), and Adam Traore (metatarsal fracture) available, but will be without Lee Kozak and Jordan Amavi. Gabriel Agbonlahor will not feature as he is the subject of an internal investigation.
For Chelsea, Eden Hazard (hip/thigh) will miss out while Diego Costa is suspended, but Kenedy (head injury) and Radamel Falcao (thigh muscle strain) could both be available.
It will be interesting to see who gets the nod up front in place of Costa, as the Blues are lacking in that department. Loic Remy is the obvious choice, but his one goal in nine appearances means that Brazilian youngster Kenedy could be thrown into the mix after scoring twice in recent weeks, while Alex Pato, a recent loan signing from Corinthians, might finally get his Premier League debut.
For Villa, few players have stood out in a disappointing campaign, but Ghanaian forward Jordan Ayew, brother of Swansea City striker Andre, has impressed with five goals so far. Winger Scott Sinclair came through the youth ranks at Chelsea, but was shipped off in 2010 after failing to break into the first team, and even scored against them during his time at Swansea.