x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Chelsea come out fighting in title race

The 5-0 win at Portsmouth in midweek may have awoken the beast inside Chelsea to roar back into the title race.

Critical words have been written and spoken in the past two weeks in reference to Chelsea. From Roman Abramovich, the owner, through to Carlo Ancelotti, the manager, down to John Terry, the captain, none have escaped blame through indifferent performances. But the 5-0 win at Portsmouth may have awoken the beast inside to roar back into the title race.

There will be those who suggest that a success at Fratton Park against a side doomed to relegation is not the best terms on which to judge whether Chelsea have found form and belief when it most matters. Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge today will be. But in that win at Portsmouth on Wednesday, there was a sign of renewed determination within the Chelsea ranks; that the players were hurting from the vilification following their exit from the Champions League at the hands of Inter Milan.

There were accusations that Chelsea were too aggressive against Avram Grant's men. Yet perhaps there was also a display of the fight that they have lacked recently. Didier Drogba, the Blues striker, said: "You always have difficult moments like this in the season and our difficult moment just didn't come at the right time. "It is important to go through these situations and then win like we did against Portsmouth. It's not about the end of something [with this squad]."

The next seven league games will determine that. Or maybe even the next two, against Villa and then an Old Trafford showdown with Manchester United, who are a point ahead at the top. Drogba, with 11 goals in the last nine league games, will be seminal to Chelsea's fortunes. His constant goalscoring is a quality Villa are missing and why their top-four ambitions may not be realised after three draws in four games.

They have conceded just 25 league goals - the joint-best record with United - but have scored 42, which is the lowest among the top seven sides. With Emile Heskey joining Gabriel Agbonlahor on the sidelines with an Achilles injury, Nathan Delfouneso could be handed his first league start alongside John Carew. "I want to test myself against the top players. If I am called upon I believe I'd be ready for it," said Delfouneso.

The England Under 21 international might have promise, but a polished performer is what Villa need now. akhan@thenational.ae Chelsea v Aston Villa, 7pm, Showsports 1 & 2