Aston Villa-Chelsea Preview
By TOM BENNETT
STATS European Football Writer
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Chelsea return to Premier League action when they host Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon.
The Blues bounced back from their disappointing 1-0 defeat to Corinthians in the final of the Club World Cup in Yokohama, Japan last weekend by hammering Leeds United 5-1 on Wednesday to reach the League Cup semi-finals, and manager Rafael Benitez does not believe that the hectic schedule will have damaged his team's fitness.
"I think everything is fine," said Benitez. "I was worried before the game with Leeds. I'm sure some of the players had jet-lag. With a long trip, it could be dangerous and it was fine.
"I was really impressed with the performance of the team - the way that we played. We were pushing at 1-4. I was really pleased with the performance of the team."
Aston Villa are beginning to click under manager Paul Lambert, culminating in a superb 3-1 win over Liverpool last weekend, and Benitez is aware of the threat of Sunday's visitors.
"Aston Villa are unbeaten in five games, they are comfortable and have good options on the counter-attack," said the Spaniard. "Christian Benteke is a good player, strong in the air and good with the ball."
Villa produced a shock result in this fixture last season, coming out 3-1 winners, but Lambert isn't expecting an easy ride against last season's European Champions.
"I hope the travelling affects them - but I don't think it will," said a typically downbeat Lambert. "They had a good result the other night against Leeds. The tiredness only comes in if you are not getting results, if you're winning nobody bothers.
"In terms of Rafa, you look at his managerial career and it is phenomenal. He's gone in there at a difficult time and tried to stabilise it and get results at the same time. You look at Chelsea's squad, and the players they've got, and there are some world-class players in there."
Chelsea are without Oriol Romeu (knee) and Daniel Sturridge (hamstring), while John Terry (knee) will face a late fitness test. Villa have doubts over Gabriel Agbonlahor (thigh), Darren Bent (hamstring), Ron Vlaar (calf) and Richard Dunne (groin), while Stilyan Petrov and Gary Gardner are out.
Aston Villa may have won at Stamford Bridge last season, but Chelsea picked up three points in the reverse fixture, winning 4-2 at Villa Park. Villa's victory at the Bridge was their first at the ground since 2002. Chelsea had won seven and drawn the other three of the ten matches against Villa in all competitions prior to that game.
Chelsea's 3-1 victory over Sunderland in their last league match ended a winless run of seven - their longest run since 1995. The Blues have drawn three straight matches at home, failing to score in back-to-back league games at the Bridge. Villa's win at Liverpool was just their second in the last 17 away from home in the league, and was the first time they had managed three goals in a game since January.
Updated December 21, 2012