Wed, Aug 21, 2013 - Page 18 News List

PREMIER LEAGUE: Chelsea on alert ahead of clash with ebullient Villa

AFP, LONDON

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho reacts during their English Premier League match against Hull City at Stamford Bridge in London on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

After a triumphant homecoming as Chelsea manager at the weekend, Jose Mourinho must steel his side for today’s visit of a buoyant Aston Villa in the Premier League.

The Portuguese made his return to the home dugout at Stamford Bridge on Sunday after six years away and quickly slipped back into the old routine, overseeing a 2-0 defeat of Hull City that extended his run of unbeaten home games in the English top flight to 61.

The game was over once Frank Lampard made it 2-0 with a long-range free-kick in the 25th minute, but Mourinho’s men can expect a more searching examination at the hands of Paul Lambert’s Villa.

The Midlands club stunned Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday and with Christian Benteke already in goal-scoring form, they look poised to banish memories of last season’s nervous dalliance with relegation.

Lampard, one of eight survivors in the squad from Mourinho’s first stint, said Chelsea’s aim for this season is to mount a sustained title challenge after finishing third last season and sixth last year.

“The Premier League is very difficult these days. The games come thick and fast and consistency is difficult,” said the 35-year-old England midfielder, a two-time title-winner under Mourinho in 2005 and 2006.

“What the manager did last time he was here was to keep us on the ball, so we won week in, week out, and that’s what we have to do again,” Lampard said. “What matters now is Aston Villa come on Wednesday after beating Arsenal with a very quick and young team, so we can’t rest on our laurels. We have to keep kicking on.”

With a trip to Manchester United to follow on Monday, Mourinho may elect to rotate his squad for a game that has been brought forward due to Chelsea’s involvement in the UEFA Super Cup in Prague on Aug. 30.

Juan Mata will hope to feature after remaining on the bench against Hull due to a calf complaint, while either Romelu Lukaku or Demba Ba could be asked to deputize for Fernando Torres in attack.

However, recent evidence suggests that Mourinho will look to settle on a first-choice starting XI quickly and then stick by it, as he did in the early months of his tenure at Real Madrid.

The 50-year-old seemed humbled by the wave of emotion that greeted his return on Sunday, but he warned Chelsea’s fans that the players must be the focus of their support in the weeks and months ahead.

“From now on, they have to support the team,” he said. “We need that every game, especially Wednesday, because we have a very difficult opponent on Wednesday.”

Villa’s last visit to Stamford Bridge on Dec. 23 last year saw them humbled 8-0 and forward Gabriel Agbonlahor said he and his teammates will be desperate to atone when the teams cross swords again.

The 26-year-old forward has been described as “frightening” and “unplayable” by manager Lambert after winning two penalties against Arsenal and he is eager to carry that momentum into today’s game.

“It will be tough. We have some bad memories from there, but we will go with tactics and a game-plan and if we stick to it, anything can happen,” Agbonlahor told the club’s Web site.

“We need to work hard for each other. It will be hard. We need to forget about Arsenal and go again against Chelsea,” he added. “The defeat last season will be on our minds. We want to put that right for the fans who went to that game. We will be hoping to do that.”

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