Relegation threatened Aston Villa host top four chasers Chelsea at Villa Park.
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Chelsea defender Gary Cahill has challenged his side to finish the season in triumphant style as they aim to qualify for the Champions League and win the Europa League in their remaining three games.
The midweek failure to beat Tottenham means Rafael Benitez’s side must win at Aston Villa on Saturday if they are to go into the Europa League final against Benfica with a top four finish already secured.
Anything less could mean the trip to Amsterdam on May 15 is overshadowed by continuing uncertainty about their chances of playing in next season’s Champions League.
The odds are stacked in favour of the Blues, with the 2-2 draw against Spurs ensuring they sit third, three points ahead of Andre Villas-Boas’s side in fifth, and two points clear of Arsenal in fourth.
And while Villa have shown improved form to move clear of the bottom three, Benitez’s side would expect to overcome a team that has struggled for form and confidence for much of the season.
Victory in their two remaining Premier League games – they play Everton at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season – and over Benfica will mean Chelsea finish third, guaranteeing passage to the Champions League group stage, and again collect silverware.
And England centre-back Cahill said: “There are three games left in total and they will determine our season.
“It is a huge game on Saturday followed by the Europa League final which is obviously massive. So we go again and we are in a good run of results at the moment and decent form.”
Chelsea’s search for a new manager is attracting almost as much attention as their efforts on the pitch with Frank Lampard adding his support for the return of former manager Jose Mourinho.
Lampard, who has not been offered a new contract to remain at the club, said: “I think it would be a great thing for the club. He is a successful manager and he would be a great thing for any club.
“It’s hard to comment with the season still ongoing and with the manager not here or chosen yet. It would be easy to speculate.
“But he is certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest, manager in world football.”
Villa have won five of their last eight matches, which has lifted them to 13th on 40 points and the verge of safety.
And boss Paul Lambert insists Chelsea will face a different team to the one they thrashed 8-0 at Stamford Bridge in December.
“We’re a threat, I think everyone knows we have players who can hurt teams. I’m pretty sure Chelsea will know we have guys on top of their game,” Lambert said.
“But we know it’ll be hard. The beauty of it is everybody apart from us and our fans expect Chelsea to win, because of the team they are.
“The onus is on us to make the running and we’re certainly playing well enough. We’ll see if we can hurt them.
“The defeat hurt like it did for everyone else. But the team never let heads go down, never wilted, kept going and now the fruition is there for everyone to see – we’re playing really well.”
Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov will lead out his team mates for the traditional lap of honour at the end of Villa’s final home game of the campaign on Saturday after announcing his retirement on Thursday.
The Bulgarian is fighting against leukaemia but is currently in remission.
“For Stiliyan himself, the most important for me was for him to survive that horrible illness,” Lambert said.
“I’m delighted first and foremost that he’s alive – he said that himself, that’s vital. For him to go out and do this will make it a great occasion.”
Venue Villa Park, Saturday 12.45pm
Last season Aston Villa 2 Chelsea 4
Referee Lee Mason
This season’s matches 22 Y73, R1, 3.36 cards per game
Subs from Given, Dawkins, N’Zogbia, Bannan, Bowery, Holman, Bent, Lowton, Williams, Stevens, Carruthers, Ireland
Doubtful Lowton (thigh)
Injured Dunne (groin, Aug), Gardner (knee, Aug), Herd (foot, Aug), Albrighton (ankle, unknown), Clark (foot, unknown), El Ahmadi (thigh, unknown)
Form guide WWLDWL
Disciplinary record Y71 R2
Leading scorer Benteke 18
Subs from Hilário, Turnbull, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Romeu, Ramires, Benayoun, Torres, Hazard, David Luiz, Marin, Ake
Doubtful Hazard (calf), Mikel (hip), Moses (thigh), Romeu (match fitness)
Injured Bertrand (knee, 19 May)
Form guide DWWDWW
Disciplinary record Y48 R2
Leading scorer Lampard 13
Chelsea won the reverse fixture 8-0 at Stamford Bridge on 23 December, Villa’s heaviest top-flight defeat.
That game was the second time in as many years that Chelsea had put seven or more goals past Villa, having won 7-1 at Stamford Bridge in March 2010.
However, Villa have only lost two of their last 13 games at home to Chelsea.
Paul Lambert’s side have won five of their last eight games, scoring 18 times in the process.
Despite that impressive run, Villa have gone 20 league games without a clean sheet, the longest run by any club in the top flight this season.
Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor have scored 13 of Villa’s last 18 goals. Agbonlahor’s tally of six in seven games has taken him above Dwight Yorke as Villa’s all-time Premier League goalscorer with 63.
Benteke needs two goals to become the first Villa player to score 20 in a league season since Peter Withe in the 1980-1981 title-winning campaign.
Chelsea have scored more headed goals (16) than any other team in the Premier League this season.
The Blues are second in the Premier League form table (W5, D2, L1) behind Arsenal. Villa are third (W5, D1, L2).
However, Chelsea have lost three of their last six games on their travels.
Ramires’ midweek goal against Tottenham took his league tally to five, all of which have come at Stamford Bridge. Two of those goals were in the reverse fixture against Villa.
Oscar has scored three times in his last four Premier League games. Prior to that he had only scored once in his opening 29.
Juan Mata is in line for his 100th Chelsea start.