Chelsea’s Europa League triumph last May has forced and early change to the Premier League schedule. A match originally scheduled for the league’s third round has been moved to today, allowing Chelsea to face Bayern Munich in Aug. 30’s UEFA Super Cup. That means only two days rest for a Blues side that cruised past Hull City on Sunday. Aston Villa got an extra day off after their upset of Arsenal on Saturday.
One factor in Chelsea’s favor is having their first two matches at home, a possible explanation for why there are only two changes in manager José Mourinho’s (pictured) side. In attacking midfield, Juan Mata has come in for Kevin De Bruyne, who had a strong debut on Sunday. Demba Ba also gets the start, replacing Fernando Torres up top, a move that hints at a different approach to today’s game. Whereas Torres (not even on the bench for Villa) was effective dropping back from the defense to serve as a focal point for balls from the midfield, Ba’s game is better suited for a more direct approach.
One notable absence for Chelsea is central defender David Luiz, still deemed unfit to make Chelsea’s 18. Rather than move Branislav Ivanovic in, spell one of his central defenders, and hand Cesar Azpilicueta a start, Mourinho has selected the same back four that kept a clean sheet against Hull.
Aston Villa’s biggest concern ahead of today’s match was the health of defender Nathan Baker, who left Saturday’s game in the 17th minute. The 22-year-old’s ankle injury keeps him out of Paul Lambert’s team, with Republic of Ireland international Ciaran Clark taking his place.
Villa’s 10 other starters remain unchanged, meaning Chelsea’s defense will likely get their first real test of the season. The trio of Christian Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor, and Adreas Weimann are unlikely to prove as impotent as Hull’s attack. Agbonlahor drew two penalties Saturday at the Emirates, eventually getting Laurent Koscielny sent off. Benteke was the beneficiary, scoring twice in Villa’s 3-1 win.
The winner of tonight’s game will go top of the league on six points, having played one more game than most of the Premier League. A draw will leave Aston Villa first with one greater goal scored.
The festivities start at 2:30 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN, though you can also stream the match from NBC Sports’ Live Extra.
Chelsea: Petr Cech; Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Ashley Cole; Frank Lampard, Ramires; Juan Mata, Oscar, Eden Hazard; Demba Ba
Aston Villa: Brad Guzan; Matthew Lowton, Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark, Antonio Luna; Karim El Ahamdi, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph; Gabriel Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke, Andreas Weimann