Villa out to ruin Chelsea's Christmas

Chelsea have been warned by Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill that his side are out to do the double over them on Wednesday and dent their English Premier League title hopes.

The third-placed Blues could fall nine points behind leaders Arsenal if Villa beat them for the second time this season in the Boxing Day holiday clash at Stamford Bridge.

Villa, in eighth place and seven points behind Chelsea, sent the Blues crashing to their first defeat of the season with a shock 2-0 win at Villa Park in September.

“To do the double over Chelsea would be gigantic for us. They’re a quality side and to beat them would be big,” said O’Neill.

“We shouldn’t be downhearted—we should be going there with plenty of confidence and we will take them on. We’re capable of taking the game to them and we’ll cause them problems—as they will us.

“We proved we can compete against them when we beat them.
We’ve had to work so hard for every single thing we’ve got this season, and sometimes, much, much harder than the opposition.”

Chelsea are set to deploy their Portuguese third-choice goalkeeper Hilario, due to number one Petr Cech’s bruised hip.

Hilario was thrown into his first game in nearly a year when the Czech keeper limped out of the 1-0 win at Blackburn on Sunday.

Second-choice goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini is out with a rib injury.

“Massive credit to Hilario,” said Chelsea’s England midfielder Frank Lampard.

“He hasn’t played in the first team for a long time. He is a great professional who keeps his head down and trains hard every day.

“When he came on at Blackburn he made a world-class save.

“To have a quick warm-up and come on to make that save—everyone thought it was a goal—that is what our squad is all about. It shows we have got the players who can come and do the job.”

The Blues are already without two key players.

Côte d’Ivoire striker Didier Drogba, who is recovering from a knee injury, plus club captain John Terry. The England defender is out until February with a broken foot.

Lampard said Chelsea were nonetheless determined to keep up the pressure on Arsenal and second-place Manchester United in the title race.

“We have got all the top teams to play at our place and there is the feeling that if we get through the next month or so then anything is possible,” he said.

“It is not as easy as it sounds. We now have to go on a real run of winning games, and none of them will be easy.”

Villa have not won in their last four games since going on a four-match winning streak.

Their Norway forward John Carew scored a 14th-minute equaliser as Aston Villa drew 1-1 at home to Manchester City on Saturday.

He feared the worst should Villa concede the opener again in the first post-Christmas Premier League clash.

“Matches can start like that, but you cannot afford to go behind against the big teams, so hopefully we can avoid losing an early goal at Chelsea,” he said.

The tall striker has struck just seven goals in 24 appearances since signing from French champions Lyon in January.

But he is relishing the prospect of battling with Chelsea’s defence—the second-meanest in the top flight, having conceded just 10 goals in 18 matches.

“The game on Wednesday is a chance to test myself against world class defenders. For the team this is a game we’re looking forward to.

It’s a big match and we beat them last time, so we absolutely believe that we can do it again,” he said. - Sapa-AFP

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