Chelsea handed James and Havertz injury boosts with SIX now set to return
They return from a hamstring injury and illness over the international break for the 10th v 11th clash at Stamford Bridge as Graham Potter’s side bid to escape mid-table mediocrity. N’Golo Kante, Raheem Sterling, Wesley Fofana and Edouard Mendy are also back for a much-strengthened Blues.
Somehow, despite all the absences, Potter has managed to keep it together. He retains the backing of the owners and the players remain broadly in good spirits and behind him. Potter gave those players who were not called up by their national teams last week off.
They returned to Cobham on Monday, with Kante having faced Charlton in a behind-closed-doors friendly for 60 minutes three days earlier. Potter will be expected to again deploy a 3-4-3 formation that has brought improved results.
Yet, he also faces problems, with Mason Mount, Thiago Silva, Armando Broja and Cesar Azpilicueta all doubts. Meanwhile, set-piece coach Anthony Barry has been told to stay away from the training ground after attempts by former Blues head coach Thomas Tuchel to take him to Bayern Munich.
Potter’s job is not about to get any easier. Chelsea face seven of the nine teams above them in their last 11 games. Villa are one of the league’s most in-form sides outside of the top two. Like Chelsea, they have won three and drawn one of their past four matches.
They must, however, be beaten if Chelsea have any ambition of qualifying for Europe. Five teams are in between them and fourth-placed Tottenham, while they also need to make up 11 points on Spurs.
Some of the players have publicly stated they can qualify for the Champions League but senior staff have begun to plan for life without the estimated £100million in revenue it brings. With the stakes rising every week, they must first chip away at Fulham, Brentford and Brighton who are directly above them.
The prospect of fighting for Europe’s second and third-tier competitions will not set Chelsea’s pulses racing but they must build form before they take on Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals, with the first leg in Spain on April 12.
Winning that competition is the toughest of tasks, with Bayern Munich or Manchester City to come in the semi-final, but perhaps offers the more achievable route to qualifying for Europe’s top competition next season.
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