7 mins: From the corner Grealish pulls the ball back to El Ghazi, lurking on the edge of the area, but his first-time shot is deflected and trickles limply to Mendy.
6 mins: And within seconds, a save at the other end! Grealish gets the ball on the left-hand corner of the area, pushes it wide of Kante onto his right foot and attempts the world’s most predictable curling shot towards the far post, which Mendy pushes away.
6 mins: Chelsea have started well and have just had their first shot on target, a falling sidewards volley from Rudiger from a corner which Martinez gathers.
4 mins: Pulisic goes down on the left, under Grealish’s challenge, and is furious when the referee doesn’t give Chelsea a free-kick. I’m with Stuart Attwell: it looked a shameless dive to me.
2 mins: “The focus has been on Lampard’s comments about playing twice in quick succession, but is Evans gambling by making so few changes?” wonders Steve Forstneger. Time I suppose will tell, but a lot of ex-footballers seem pretty sceptical of the idea that there’s any issue with athletes in peak condition playing twice in three days.
The Chelsea team is gathering in the tunnel. Liquidator is ringing out at the Bridge. Action imminent.
Dean Smith has a chat, mainly about the absence of changes to his team:
There’s two trains of thought, there’s rotating and getting fresh legs in or continuing momentum and confidence. I’ve looked them all in the eye and asked them if they’re ready to go again and they’ve told me they are. We’ve shown that we’ve got depth within our squad. They always worry you with the quality of players they’ve got. On their day they’re very, very good in this league.
Frank Lampard has a chat. He says his changes come because “it’s impossible to ask the same XI to play in two days’ time at the same level”, though I thought the point was they were being asked to play at a different leve.
We haven’t had time to train, so the changes were going to come irrespective. it’s impossible to ask the same XI to play in two days’ time at the same level. They have a lot of confidence. We have to be aware of that. If we play at the right levels, with the right intensity, we should be OK, but we have to bring that.
News here of what should have been today’s third and final Premier League game, which will now need to be rescheduled:
Special hugs for John Terry as he returns to Stamford Bridge:
Frank Lampard promised changes, and he has made six of them. Azpilicueta, Rudiger and Christensen come in as three of the back four are swapped out (James, Zouma and Thiago Silva, since you ask), while further forward Giroud and Hudson Odoi replace Werner and Abraham.
Villa only make one change, and that wasn’t their choice: Mings is suspended, and Konsa comes in.
The temperature is expected to hover between a chilly 2C and and imperceptibly less chilly 3C for the remainder of the day, and it looks like hoods are very much required at Stamford Bridge:
The teams are in, and these are those teams:
Chelsea: Mendy, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Chilwell, Kante, Jorginho, Mount, Pulisic, Giroud, Hudson-Odoi. Subs: Arrizabalaga, Thiago Silva, Abraham, Werner, Tomori, Kovacic, Gilmour, Havertz, Emerson Palmieri.
Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Hause, Konsa, Targett, Douglas Luiz, McGinn, Traore, Grealish, El Ghazi, Watkins. Subs: Heaton, Taylor, Hourihane, Nakamba, Engels, Guilbert, Elmohamady, Davis, Ramsey.
Referee: Stuart Attwell.
The best thing about this fixture from the home side’s point of view is that it gives them a near-instant chance to play the Arsenal defeat, and for that matter the Everton and Wolves defeats, out of their system. They have the division’s second-best home record, not having lost at home in any competition since Liverpool played at Stamford Bridge in September (it’s a weird season, though, and there are four teams with away records at least as good as Chelsea’s home record is, including Aston Villa), and now they have a chance to extend it. Lampard notably accused his players of lacking character at Arsenal on Boxing Day, which will either leave them massively motivated to prove their mettle tonight, or, well, it won’t. If they continue to find motivation elusive, Aston Villa will be ready to punish them. The Villains are a side transformed this season, start the game ahead of Chelsea on goal difference (by one) and only Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester City have taken more shots than them.
In head-to-head news, precisely 50% of the last 10 games between these sides have ended 2-1 to Chelsea. The other five have finished 2-0, 3-0, 4-0 and 8-0 to Chelsea, with Villa claiming a rogue 1-0 home win in March 2014. This combination of teams tends to produce entertainment: just three of the last 21 games between Chelsea and Villa have been drawn, and even they averaged 4⅔ goals each (and one was goalless). For some reason, I’m really looking forward to this one. Welcome!