Who: Aston Villa FC vs. Chelsea FC
What: English Premier League Matchweek 37
Where: Villa Park, Wilton, West Midlands, England, UK
When: Saturday, May 11, 2013
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast
Time: 12:45 GMT/7:45 a.m. ET/4:45 a.m. PT
Worldwide TV Streams and Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes (US), Sky Sports 2/HD, Sky Sports 3D, Sky Go (UK)
Radio: SiriusXM SIRI 94 (Internet 94), BBC Radio 5 Live, TalkSport Radio
Referee: Lee Mason
3-Way Odds: Aston Villa +330, Chelsea -120, Draw +265
Total: Over 2½ -150, Under 2½ +115
Decimal Odds: Aston Villa 4.30, Chelsea 1.83, Draw 3.65
Decimal Total: Over 2½ 1.67, Under 2½ 2.15
Fractional Odds: Aston Villa 33/10, Chelsea 5/6, Draw 23/20
Fractional Total: Over 2½ 2/3, Under 2½ 23/20
Aston Villa Pick +220, Chelsea Pick -300
Aston Villa +½ -110, Chelsea -½ -120
Aston Villa +1 -200, Chelsea -1 +155
Over 3 +120 Under 3 -155
Source: Bovada (Kahnawake, Canada)
Will there ever be another Chelsea game without some massive significance to it?
As it seems to have been for the majority the Blues games during this record 69-game season, the next one always seems to be "the biggest," and Saturday's date with Aston Villa is certainly no exception.
Chelsea (20-9-7, 69 points) will start the day in third-place, just two points ahead of fourth-place Arsenal (19-10-7, 67 points) and three points in front fifth-place Tottenham-Hotspur (19-9-8, 66 points) as London's three biggest clubs fight for the two remaining UEFA Champions League spots with just two matches left in the English Premier League season.
So, in essence, the Blues control their own destiny and can pretty much lock down a spot in the continent's most prestigious tournament next season with a win over the Claret and Blue here at Villa Park.
After thrashing Villa 8-0 in the first meeting at Stamford Bridge on Dec. 23 in a record-tying rout for the club, one would think beating the Claret and Blue in such a crucial game would be a forgone conclusion for Chelsea.
But better think again celery breath.
A look at the recent Premier League form guide shows that Villa is the fifth-hottest team in the league over the last six matches (3-1-2), but the Blues have been even better over that span and rank first with a 4-2-0 record over their last six EPL games.
Villa (10-10-16, 40 points) and manager Paul Lambert have certainly picked the right time to get hot and now sit five points above the dreaded relegation zone in 13th place, so there's little doubt that this founder club in the Premier League will be back again in 2013/14.
But Lions winger Gabby Agbonlahor isn't so sure about that, as he told ESPNFC.
"There's no-one safe really in that bottom half," the 26-year-old Englishman said. "It's maybe going to go all the way. We will go out to go and try to win the next two games."
Villa has been fairly average at home (5-5-8, 22 goals for, 28 goals against) but with fear in its hearts, the European champions coming to town and sour memories of that 8-0 humbling still dancing through their heads like so many bitter sugar plums. You know the home side will be ready and that the crowd will be raucous.
Defensively, Chelsea (9-4-5 on the road, 32 goals for, 22 goals against) will really have to keep tight wraps on the impressive Christian Benteke (18 goals), but after holding PFA Player of the Year Gareth Bale in check in Wednesday's disappointing 2-2 draw against Spurs in West London, the Blues should be up for the task.
Besides neutralizing the talented Belgian striker Benteke, Chelsea will also have to focus on stopping Agbonlahor (9 goals) and Andreas Weimann (7 goals) and a counterattack that can be extremely deadly when it's clicking on all cylinders.
In goal, Brad Guzan has helped Villa's late-season resurgence, but it was the American who was the victim of the Blues' eight goals by seven different scorers on the night before the night before Christmas. So you better ho, ho, hope Guzan's form is at least half as bad on Saturday if you're a Chelsea fan.
The Blues enter the game fairly healthy with only Oriol Romeu (out for season), John Obi Mikel (hip) and Ryan Bertrand (knee) in question, and although attacking midfielder Eden Hazard (tight calf) was taken off late in the Tottenham game, the Belgian Messi should be ready to go and in interim manager Rafael Benítez's starting XI.
Along with Hazard (9 goals, 9 assists), playmaker extraordinaire Juan Mata (10 goals, 12 assists in EPL) and Oscar or Victor Moses should be in the attacking midfield but figuring out who the 52-year-old Spaniard will play at the lone striker spot in the club's 4-2-3-1 formation has become a mystery of sorts.
Fernando Torres—still scoreless in the Premier League this calendar year—seems to be Benítez's preferred choice, but with Demba Ba rested and unable to play in next Thursday's date with Benfica in Amsterdam in the Europa League final due to being cup-tied, starting the Senegalese international seems like the call.
Along with Ba, two of Chelsea's living legends—captain John Terry and vice-captain Frank Lampard—also didn't play against Tottenham, but like the Torres situation, guessing who Benítez will actually start, and play, is extremely difficult.
Ashley Cole, César Azpilicueta, Branislav Ivanović and Gary Cahill all started in Chelsea's back four against Spurs with David Luiz in the defensive midfield alongside Ramires and Petr Čech in goal.
Trendwise, Chelsea is 5-3-2 against Villa in the last 10 Premier League meetings and have outscored them 31-15 in the process—an average of 4.6 goals per game—with seven of those 10 going over the posted total.
How the Blues—8-3-1 in their last 12 games in all competitions—react to the disappointing draw and who Benítez decides to start remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure: Chelsea needs to win, as a loss will leave them in a position to be leap-frogged by Arsenal and tied by Tottenham heading into the final week of the season if they both win on Sunday .
A draw may end up proving to provide a valuable point in the end, but with Everton on tap in the season's finale on May 19 at Stamford Bridge and the Gunners and Spurs playing Newcastle United and Sunderland respectively, getting the three points and the win is the only thing the Blues should be aiming for.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 3 Aston Villa 1
BETS: Chelsea Pick -300, Chelsea -120, Over 2½ -150
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