Aston Villa-Chelsea Preview
Despite a troubling start and more controversy surrounding their outspoken manager, Chelsea - at least for the time being - is counting on Jose Mourinho to save their season.
Coming out of the international break with Diego Costa back in the mix, the Blues can end their immediate struggles by continuing their success over lowly Aston Villa on Saturday at Stamford Bridge.
Off to their worst Premier League start, Chelsea (2-2-4) are 16th in the table and four points clear of relegation. A position that seemed unimaginable five months ago when the Blues were kings of the league.
Mourinho, meanwhile, hasn't helped matters with his behaviour.
Following their most recent defeat, 3-1 to Southampton at home Oct. 3, Mourinho brashly defended his job security.
''If the club wants to sack me, they have to sack me because I'm not running away,'' he said. ''If the club sacks me, they sack the best manager that this club has had.''
He also stated that the referees ''are afraid to give decisions for Chelsea.'' Those comments resulted in Mourinho receiving a £50,000 fine and a suspended one-game stadium ban. That ban goes into effect if he commits a further breach of rules before Oct. 13 of next year.
Reports also surfaced this week that some of Mourinho's players have shown displeasure with the way he's running the team.
Still, the club itself remains behind their coach after supporting him in a statement last week.
''The club wants to make it clear that Jose continues to have our full support,'' the Chelsea statement said. ''As Jose has said himself, results have not been good enough and the team's performances must improve.
''However, we believe that we have the right manager to turn this season around and that he has the squad with which to do it.''
Chelsea's four losses are one more than they had all last season. The Blues' 17 goals allowed are tied for second-worst in the league. They didn't yield that many until New Year's Day last season.
Things could get even tougher on the back end if injured defenders Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic are unable to play.
Offensively, Brazilian midfielder Willian's two league goals - both coming on free kicks - lead the team and both have come in the last two contests. Costa and Eden Hazard combined for 34 goals during top-flight play in 2014-15, but only Costa has scored this season.
Costa returns from a three-match ban stemming from his actions in the 2-0 win over Arsenal on Sept. 19. He should have even more motivation to overcome his slow start after being dropped from Spain's squad for the final stretch of Euro 2016 qualifying.
With Costa back on the pitch, it could boost Chelsea's collective confidence despite what's going on in the dressing room, in the media or elsewhere behind the scenes.
"We've had a very tough start, everybody knows that, but I've never been as determined to turn things around personally and I'm sure my teammates feel the same," veteran defender Gary Cahill told Chelsea's official website last week."
This weekend could provide the ideal opportunity for them to do so.
The Blues have won six of the last seven meetings with Villa (1-1-6) and earned at least one point in 12 of the last 13 league matchups at the Bridge. The Villans haven't triumphed anywhere since a 1-0 season-opening victory at Bournemouth and four points from safety in 18th place.
Though coach Tim Sherwood faces an uncertain future in Birmingham, his players haven't lost faith while mired in their longest winless stretch since last season's 12-match drought.
"We're in a difficult situation at the moment but with the characters and the quality in the squad, we should be pushing out of the bottom three," midfielder Scott Sinclair told the club's official website. "We have enough time. There's no need to panic."
Despite those overall struggles, the Villans have scored six of their eight league goals over four road contests. All three of Rudy Gestede's goals have come away from Villa Park.
Ivanovic was injured playing for Serbia on international duty.