Chelsea are back in action for the first time in three months on Sunday, when they meet Aston Villa at Villa Park.
The Blues haven’t played since 8 March, when they swept aside Everton in a 4-0 win. It was one of the most complete performances of the season, and months later the challenge will be to pick up where they left off when they travel to the Midlands.
They will make the trip with a few notable absentees, however. Midfielder Jorginho is suspended, Fikayo Tomori is out with a muscle problem and Callum Hudson-Odoi is not yet match fit. However, Ruben Loftus-Cheek is back in contention after a year-long absence, while N’Golo Kanté also returned to first-team training in recent weeks.
Here is the Chelsea lineup that should start the game.
Kepa Arrizabalaga (GK) – Although it’s been a difficult season for the Spaniard, Arrizabalaga will keep his status as Chelsea’s number one. He was one of many players to have an outstanding two games against Liverpool and Everton, proving his worth in back-to– back standout displays with clean sheets on both occasions.
Reece James (RB) – James has excelled at right-back when given the chance, with three assists this season. One of them came in the reverse fixture against Aston Villa, when his delightful cross was headed home by Tammy Abraham.
Kurt Zouma (CB) – With Tomori unavailable for Sunday’s match, Zouma deserves a chance at the back. While he has struggled on occasions, the Frenchman has shown his worth with his powerful tackling and physicality in defence. Will be in contention to start over Antonio Rüdiger, and should be given the nod ahead of the German.
Andreas Christensen (CB) – Criticised for his physicality earlier in the season, Christensen is becoming an indispensable centre-back for Chelsea. He put in a string of solid performances before the break, really growing in confidence and strength under Lampard’s guidance.
César Azpilicueta (LB) – Despite Marcos Alonso and Emerson both being available, captain Azpilicueta has been the best choice at left-back. Moving over to accommodate for James, the Spanish international is as consistent and hard-working as ever for the Blues.
Mateo Kova?i? (CM) – Chelsea’s player of the season will regain his spot in midfield, raring to go at the heart of the Blues’ lineup. Kova?i? has made 37 appearances this season – joint second for most in the squad – and has been a critical part of their success.
Billy Gilmour (CM) – It is another perfect opportunity for Billy Gilmour to play, with Jorginho suspended and Loftus-Cheek and Kanté not yet ready to start. The 19-year-old was man-of-the-match against Liverpool and Everton, and is deserving a starting place once more.
Mason Mount (CM) – Mount scored the winner in the reverse fixture, with his beautiful volley securing three points inDecember. Plays as the attack minded player in a midfield three, where he can play with freedom and roam into space.
Willian (RW) – Although his Chelsea contract will have less than ten days to run, Willian is a likely starter given his form. Has 13 goal contributions and, crucially, still provides experience to a relatively youthful side.
Tammy Abraham (CF) – Chelsea’s top scorer this season will look to add to his 15-goal haul, returning to the scene of his successful loan spell last year. The pressure is on the Englishman, with Timo Werner now on the way.
Christian Pulisic (LW) – Football’s three month hiatus has allowed Pulisic to recover from an abductor injury. The American has 12 goal contributions in his debut season so far, and could play for the first time since the 1-1 draw with Brighton on New Year’s Day.
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