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Chelsea v Aston Villa, December 28: 5.30pm
From “title challengers” just a few weeks ago, Chelsea are in serious danger of falling into mid-table mediocrity.
Frank Lampard’s side have lost three of their last four league games and can count themselves somewhat fortunate that they beat West Ham at home just before Christmas.
Their recent misery was compounded by an embarrassing defeat to the worst Arsenal side in a generation and they go into this festive fixture below Aston Villa in the league table on goal difference.
Villa have been terrific in recent weeks and have picked up ten points from the last four games without conceding a goal.
Their close shave with relegation last year is now a distant memory having picked up 25 points from their opening 14 games. In contrast, they picked up just 35 points in 38 games last season.
Villa have been particularly good on the road, winning five of their six games away from Villa Park this season, while their sole away defeat this season came at West Ham thanks to one of the most scandalous VAR decisions of the season that ruled out a late Villa equaliser.
They have been almost impeccable on their travels this season and they can inflict more pain on a wounded Chelsea.
For all of their struggles this season, Chelsea have had no trouble finding the back of the net, especially at home.
Only Liverpool have scored more goals than Chelsea this season and Lampard’s side have managed to score in all home games aside from a suffocating 0-0 draw with Chelsea in November and a comprehensive 2-0 defeat to Liverpool at the start of the season.
In games against “lesser quality” opposition, Chelsea have had no problems finding the back of the net, but they have still had trouble keeping the goals out.
There is a good chance that they will score on Monday, meaning that Villa will have to score twice to win, but Dean Smith’s side should have no trouble doing so.
The Villans have scored in every away game this season and have scored two or more in three separate away games.
Villa’s Dutch winger has only found himself in the starting line-up due to an injury to Trezeguet, but he has seized the opportunity with both hands.
El Ghazi has scored four goals in his last four league games, including an injury time winner against local rivals Wolves from the penalty spot.
El Ghazi also scored from the spot against West Brom just before Christmas and is a good bet to score on Monday given his red-hot form.
His proficiency from the spot only increases the chances of him scoring against Chelsea given that there has been an uncommon number of penalties awarded this season.
Villa have become a second half team on their travels this season, scoring after the break in all five of their away wins this year.
Smith’s side have scored injury time winners against Wolves and Leicester, while they also scored after the break in the comprehensive wins against Arsenal, West Brom, and Fulham.
Their defeat to West Ham was the only time that Villa failed to score in the second half, but they did score a perfectly legitimate goal, only for VAR to intervene.
Villa seem to go up a level after the break and can really hurt Chelsea in the closing stages.
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