Chelsea also had a problem the last time they greeted Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge.
That was just over a year ago, when Frank Lampard was fairly fresh at the job, with two Premier League losses to Manchester City and West Ham underlining the extent of his rebuilding mission.
Goals from Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount gave Chelsea a 2-1 win that was far more comfortable than the goal line suggested.
Trouble mounts for Frank Lampard as Chelsea prepares to host Aston Villa
Mason Mount looks dejected during Chelsea’s 3-1 loss to Arsenal on Boxing Day
Not only is 12 months and £ 253 million spending on Villa a far more dangerous proposition, but the situation is much more difficult for Lampard. After three losses in Chelsea’s last four, this is quite simply a game he cannot afford to lose.
The problems have accumulated for the Chelsea boss at a time when the game plan is so demanding that it is next to impossible to get on the training ground and solve them.
So Lampard has to rely on the depth of his squad and the motivation of his players to respond to a poor performance at Arsenal and his own biting criticism to ease the growing pressure a little.
His anger at the 48-hour break between Arsenal and Villa games has been well documented, but Lampard has no choice but to switch squads and keep going in hopes of getting back to shape.
Chelsea, announced as a title contender earlier this month, have dropped to eighth place and any points lost to seventh-placed Villa will matter with Man City next.
The Emirates Stadium loss marked Chelsea’s third loss in four Premier League games
Chelsea, who were considered real title challengers a few weeks ago, are now in eighth place
Reports in Germany suggest that PSG coach Thomas Tuchel, recently laid off, would be interested in the Chelsea job if Lampard left
Lampard is not yet fully afraid of losing his job, although there are whispers in Germany that the recently deposed Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel would be interested in this case.
After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Chelsea were unbeaten in 17 games and emerged as a potential challenger for Liverpool and drove through the Champions League group.
But Lampard will be very aware that he is expected to reach or improve fourth place last season and ideally deliver silver even after heavy investments last summer.
So he has to get his team to beat Villa again, but it’s easier said than done.
First, how are his players going to react to this very public criticism after losing Arsenal, accusing them of being “lazy” and forgetting about the “basics” of the game, including the effort of running?
£ 53m striker Timo Werner has not scored a goal in his last 10 games for Chelsea
Tammy Abraham is in better shape but couldn’t avert the Boxing Day defeat
Premier League unless otherwise stated
Monday Aston Villa (H)
January 3rd Manchester City (H)
10. January Morecambe (H)
FA Cup third round
15. January Fulham (A)
January 19th Leicester City (A)
January 27th Wolves (H)
Little is read about changes to his starting line-up that Lampard is making today ahead of the tight turnaround between games, but it sounded like he was ready to drop some of them.
Timo Werner, who has failed to score in 10 Chelsea games, would surely be a top candidate after being pulled off at halftime for Callum Hudson-Odoi on Boxing Day.
After such a promising start to his Chelsea career, the £ 53m striker’s slump has been pretty confusing for the past two months.
Werner has already admitted he’s struggling with the intensity and physicality of the Premier League but Chelsea can barely allow him a mid-season break as they battle for wins.
It would be helpful if Werner returned to the role of his natural center forward. With one of the few Chelsea players in shape right now, Tammy Abraham will continue to fight for his left seat with Hudson-Odoi.
Hakim Ziyech cannot return from his hamstring injury soon enough. He was well connected in October and November and during his absence there was a slump in Chelsea’s average shots per game.
Mind you, the use of Kai Havertz or Christian Pulisic in his place did not reduce the number of passes into opposing penalty areas or touches in them.
There is no doubt, however, that Ziyech could provide some of the missing spark, and it is no accident that his fieldside spell coincided with this slump in shape. The villa game will probably come too early, unfortunately for Lampard.
Hakim Ziyech sustained a thigh injury against Leeds and Chelsea’s form slumped afterwards
Chelsea have been shooting and shooting less since Ziyech sustained his injury, despite the fact that he got into the opponent’s box and the touches in it actually increased
And at a time when strength is so important, Lampard’s decision to start Ben Chilwell and Reece James at Arsenal after calling them fitness doubts didn’t say much for the full-back alternatives.
James took a penalty while struggling with his knee, while Chilwell certainly didn’t look quite fit. Nevertheless, they were preferred to Emerson, Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta.
It’s doubtful that James and Chilwell won’t be much more healthy after just 48 hours, but Lampard may need them again to beat Villa.
Dean Smith’s team will also show a Chelsea past spirit determined to prove a point.
Reece James teases Kieran Tierney for a penalty in the Boxing Day loss at Arsenal
Ben Chilwell didn’t look full either as he was doubtful for the competition
Aston Villa has former Chelsea striker Bertrand Traore in their ranks and he will be happy to prove a point at Stamford Bridge after playing well recently
Bertrand Traore was briefly the team’s first pick at the start of that terrifying 2015-16 season under Jose Mourinho, but his stint at Chelsea has been largely a familiar history of loan spells.
He signed for Lyon for £ 8.8million in 2017 before returning to the Premier League with Villa in September.
Traore has played well in the last few games, scoring against Crystal Palace on Boxing Day before the striker was sacrificed for an additional defender on Tyrone Mings’ red card.
Traore is therefore fresher than most and wants to prove a point at Stamford Bridge, which for Lampard is just another worry.
Many of Chelsea’s problems echo that point last season when they were far more inconsistent and usually accompanied by a frustrating loss after a few wins.
In the meantime, things have moved on and expectations of Lampard have increased. Dips and blips like yours now can all too easily escalate into a full blown crisis.