There's good news and bad news. The good news is Aston Villa are finally scoring goals and winning matches. Everyone is relatively speaking over the moon about the effect Paul Lambert is having on the club. Compared to the past two seasons, despite having a meager three point cushion from the drop zone, everything feels like it's heading in the right direction. There's still plenty of work to be done and the ups and downs will continue for a bit - but I think everyone is starting to believe in Paul Lambert. The toxic stench of the Alex McLeish reign has finally vacated the claret and blue side of Birmingham.
Winning a match at Anfield was a fantastic achievement for the young club but winning at Stamford Bridge is a different story. You might recall just last year in what was probably the single good thing that happened under McLeish, Aston Villa beat Chelsea 3-1 thanks to Stephen Ireland's best game in a Villa shirt and a Stilyan Petrov goal. That result has almost nothing to do with this weekend's match. The differences between the club then and now are staggering and we're not even a calendar year to the date. Sure, those points last year were utterly crucial in the fight to survive but now Villa colect points in a dramatic build up to something great.
Chelsea have had an interesting season. They've got a new manager, Rafa Benitez, who the whole of their fan base hated before he had coached a single second of football. They've just returned from the Club World Cup where the lost the final match to beat Leeds 5-1 in the Capital One Cup and somehow didn't draw Villa in the semis. The hope here is that they're tired and unfocused for this match. Daniel Sturridge and John Terry are hurt for Chelsea but that doesn't mean they don't have a bunch of world class players that frankly terrify me and will likely do so for ninety plus minutes. Juan Mata and Eden Hazard (Christian Benteke's fellow Belgian) have been great this season and everyone's favorite punching bag Fernando Torres has been somewhat resurrected. Their whole team is really, very good. This is going to be a really tough match to get points from.
For those of us that don't follow Chelsea all that closely, it seems like they're having an off year and could be vulnerable. They are already on their second manager, they didn't qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League and thus cannot defend their title, and they almost made Rafa Benitez cry and go home during his first match as manager. All that said they've still got a plus 11 goal differential and sit in third place with only three losses. At home they are a little prone to the draw so Villa certainly have a chance to come away with something.
And I think that's where we need to temper things a little. Everyone's tucked into their waistband about Villa's recent form but make no mistake: there will be hiccups along the way. The Manchester City debacle wasn't that long ago. But I think that's what gives me hope. Despite that awful result, people still felt like the scoreline wasn't reflective of the hard work the players have put in under Lambert. They didn't begin to wonder if Lambert was some kind of snake oil salesman. Everyone stayed the course and their faith was rewarded this week in a big way. If Villa end up losing a match or two just remember that this team isn't the Villa of the last couple of seasons anymore.