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A pair of clubs at opposite end of the table in search of three crucial points to their respective goals collide at Villa Park on Saturday when relegation-threatened Aston Villa host Chelsea.
A closed stadium policy is expected to be enacted, with media reports stating this will be the case throughout all rungs of English football as part of a government response to combat the coronavirus. It is also believed ticket-holders will be allowed to stream coverage of matches at their house and that no pubs will broadcast games to help avoid congregations of people.
The Villains (7-4-17) are three points from safety but also have one ace in their pocket - a match in hand as a result of reaching the Carabao Cup final. While that run did not result in a trophy as Aston Villa lost to Manchester City at Wembley Stadium 2-1 on March 1, Dean Smith's team do need to shake off the hangover effect that loss created after they were thrashed 4-0 at Leicester City on Monday for their fifth consecutive defeat in all competitions.
It all went pear-shaped in the final half-hour for Aston Villa, with Jamie Vardy's penalty on 63 minutes following a handball by Tyrone Mings the first of three goals shipped. With every goal in either direction crucial to Villa's survival hopes, their minus-22 goal differential is now the worst of the five teams operating in a four-point margin trying to escape the drop.
"At 1-0 we were still in it and unfortunately, we've had a decision go against us with the penalty," Smith told the club's official website about the penalty. "My opinion was that it wasn't a penalty. We then had to go and chase the game, which is difficult to do against a team like this.
"We keep making basic errors. The third goal, we had enough bodies behind the ball and we were well organised. Jamie Vardy picks the ball up against four of our players, but he's allowed to run into our box and have two bites at the cherry. At 3-0 down, their fans are cock-a-hoop and our heads drop a little bit and it becomes very difficult."
Villa's home form has not been all that positive either with four losses in their last six matches in the Midlands and shipping 16 goals in that stretch. They also have taken just one point from their eight matches against Big Six sides to date, getting outscored 24-10 in those contests.
While Villa languish near the bottom, Chelsea (14-6-9) look to strengthen their hold on fourth in the table as they lead Manchester United by three points and both Wolverhampton and Sheffield United by five. There could be an added layer of help to land in the Champions League for a second straight season if the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholds UEFA's two-year ban on European play on Manchester City for financial irregularities as the two-time champions are above them in second in the table.
The Pensioners are unbeaten in their last three matches (2-0-1) and coming off one of their most complete performances of the season, a 4-0 hiding of Everton and former manager Carlo Ancelotti on Sunday at Stamford Bridge. Pedro had a goal and an assist in the first half, and Willian did likewise in the second for Chelsea, who face a daunting task trying to overturn a 3-0 home loss next Wednesday in their second-leg, round-of-16 Champions League tie versus Bayern Munich.
While Pedro and Willian were steering the offence, starlet Billy Gilmour has been proving to be a formidable engine in the midfield. The 18-year-old notched his second straight Man of the Match award, gaining first-year manager Frank Lampard's trust in the process.
"It's down to the gaffer as well for trusting me to play in these big games. Jody, Joe and the gaffer have been brilliant with me," Gilmour explained to Chelsea's official website. "I have had them (Morris and Edwards) through the youth and then to come to the first team with them has been really good for me. It's really good for them to show trust.
"You can see that the manager will give the young players an opportunity and it's up to us to take it when we get the chance. It's exciting to be at Chelsea and I just want to take my opportunity when it comes."
Chelsea's recent surge has also coincided with a resurgence by veteran striker Olivier Giroud. The World Cup winner's nous and hold-up play have aided the offence, and the France international has scored both his goals in the last five matches.
The Blues have won five on the bounce and nine of the last 10 meetings between the sides after a 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture as goals by Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount bracketed one by Trezeguet for Villa. Chelsea are 6-1-2 in their last nine trips to the Midlands in all competitions.
Updated March 12, 2020