Chelsea return to premier league action on Sunday with a trip to Villa Park, as the resumption of premier league football begins behind closed doors. We have nine league fixtures to fulfil before the close of the 2019/20-league season, as well as resuming our FA cup campaign at the quarterfinal stage on Sunday the 28th June at Leicester. Sandwiched between that tie and our trip to the midlands this weekend is a home match on Thursday with Manchester City, as the matches will come thick and fast until the end of July. We are also still in the champions league, with our second leg match against Bayern Munich tentatively pencilled in for Friday 7th August after the league season has been finished off.
So if like me you have switched off from domestic football matters since the league was halted in March, you may need a quick reminder of the state of play before we resume. With twenty-seven points still left to play for, we currently lie fourth, in the final champions league qualifying position, three points clear of Manchester United. The gap to Leicester City, our FA cup quarterfinal opponents above us is five points. The top half was concertinaing up before the league was interrupted to the extent that we are also only clear of seventh placed Wolves by the same margin. It’s safe to say there are a lot of permutations possible for the outcome of our season both in league and cup.
It will have been one hundred and five days, or three months and two weeks between league fixtures for us by the time we kick off at Villa Park. There have been other gaps between league encounters in our past, notably because of two world wars. The 1914/15 season was actually able to play to a climax without interruption. As was that seasons FA cup, with Chelsea reaching their first final in the competition, losing 3-0 to Sheffield United at Old Trafford. The season ended on 28/4/1915, unfortunately for Chelsea with a 2-0 defeat away at Notts County, played at Trent Bridge cricket ground, which consigned us to a nineteenth place finish and relegation to division two. In the intervening years between national league football restarting, we played in the London combination league. It had been a gap of four years, four months and two days by the time Chelsea resumed league football, but the end result was the same as four years previous, an away defeat. We had however had some good fortune. The FA’s decision to extend league division one to twenty-two teams meant that we had been given a reprieve, and we resumed league football in the top flight. Fast-forward to the Second World War, and the last full season played out was the 1938-39 season, ending for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with a 1-1 draw against Bolton. We survived the drop to division two by a solitary point, albeit one place lower than we had done 20 years previously. Another nod back to the extension of the top flight in 1919. Season 1939/40 did however get underway that August. Chelsea played three matches, beating Bolton and drawing with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, before losing at Anfield at the start of September. There would be no forced resumption at a later date for this season though, it was axed, Chelsea playing friendly matches through till 21/10/1939 when the football league south commenced, and would run all the way until May 1946. The 1946 edition of the FA Cup did take place though, albeit with matches played over two legs. Chelsea made it to the fifth round before losing 1-0 home and away to this weekend’s opponent, Aston Villa. When football league division one resumed on 31/8/1946, with a 4-3 home win over Bolton at the Bridge, it had been two days shy of seven years since our last league match at Anfield in the ‘null and void’ 39/40 season.
One other notable, although much shorter in-season break from football came in the 1962/63-promotion season. We won away at Kenilworth road against Luton thanks to a Graham Moore double on boxing day 1962, but didn’t play another league match until 9/2/1963, as ‘the big freeze’ set in, one of the coldest winters on record in the UK. A gap of forty-five days between league fixtures. We did manage to get our FA cup 3rd round match, and subsequent replay with Tranmere Rovers completed in the intervening period, although there was a gap of twenty-five days, and a trip to Malta to get some match practice in between the games!
So on to Sunday’s match. I’m not going to bring form into it, as quite simply there isn’t any! I will give you some all time stats and trends from the head to head though. Unsurprisingly Villa are one of the teams we have played the most, one hundred and fifty four matches having been played between the sides. We are just shading the head to head, with sixty-three wins to their fifty-seven. We’re currently on a good run against the Villains, winning the last five encounters and only conceding twice and scoring thirteen times in those matches. The last meeting was our 2-1 home win in December. Our last match at Villa park was in April 2016, when we ran out 0-4 winners, with a Pedro double, a goal from Loftus-Cheek, and an ‘I was there when’ collectors item, an Alexandre Pato penalty! Villa last beat us in 2013-14 at Villa Park, Delph scoring the winner inside the final ten minutes, Chelsea having both Willian and Ramires sent off. We’ve actually enjoyed a great decade against the midlands side, winning eleven of fifteen meetings in this time, losing only twice. This run included an FA cup semi final win over Villa at Wembley in 2010 by three goals to nil. Our previous FA cup-tie had been the final at the old Wembley ten years previously. Frank Lampard will of course have fond memories of Villa Park, having broken Bobby Tambling’s all time Chelsea scoring record there for the blues. Let’s also not forget that in the opposite dugout will be Chelsea captain, leader and legend John Terry, part of the coaching staff for the Villains.