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Lambert praises retiring Petrov as Villa aim for safety

ESPN staff
May 10, 2013
Paul Lambert will be hoping to repeat celebrations knowing that a win over Chelsea will secure his side's Premier League status © PA Photos
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Saturday's lunchtime clash between Aston Villa and Chelsea could have significant effects at both ends of the Premier League table; a win for Paul Lambert's side will confirm another season in the top flight of English football, while victory for the Blues will effectively secure a Champions League spot for next season.

Villa's last home outing saw a 6-1 demolition of recently revitalised relegation rivals Sunderland, before sealing a second successive victory at Lambert's former club Norwich.

Chelsea have enjoyed similar form at the other, preferred end of the table; a comfortable home win against Swansea was followed by a vital three points gained against the champions Manchester United, before Wednesday's stuttering home draw with Champions League-chasing Tottenham.

However, Paul Lambert's pre-match press-conference took a different view on the contest - as the Villa boss concentrated on paying tribute to Stiliyan Petrov, who officially announced his retirement from football on Thursday.

Petrov, who was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in March 2012, has confirmed his retirement from all forms of the game to concentrate on developing his charitable foundation to help fight the disease.

Lambert stated he wants Petrov to join his backroom staff at Villa Park, and the Bulgaria international has also been invited on to the pitch on Saturday to lead the lap of appreciation following their final home game of the season.

Lambert was full of praise for the midfielder, hoping to ensure that is not the last time the 33-year-old will be associated with the club.

"There is something in my head I would like to speak to him about regarding coaching," Lambert said. "I am not sure whether that would be on a full-time or a part-time basis. The door is always open to him here and that has nothing to do with sentimental reasons.

"The fact he is going out there onto the pitch on Saturday will be incredible. It will be a great occasion. The support for him, including the 19th-minute applause, has been magnificent not just from our supporters but other fans at other clubs and other coaching staff.

"Everyone has got behind it and it will be a very emotional day for all of us. Missing him as a player has been a huge blow. Trying to replace a fantastic player like him is so hard, but he is a wonderful man. He has a heart of gold.

"I played with him for nine years and he is a fantastic character. Whatever he chooses to do in the future, we wish him all the best."

Christian Benteke has been in superb form for Aston Villa this season © Getty Images
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Form

Aston Villa come off the back of two victories knowing that signing off their final home game of the season with another win will guarantee them Premier League football next season.

It was key for Lambert's side to respond to their 3-0 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford, and they have done just that; while that was a night of title celebrations for United, Villa now have a chance to enjoy their own festivities at Villa Park.

The Blues were frustrated by Champions League rivals Tottenham on Wednesday night and will be looking to respond and secure their spot with Europe's elite for next season.

Benitez's side are unbeaten in their last six outings and will prove a stubborn side to break down, although with the Europa League final on the horizon a few Chelsea minds may wander towards the tie with Benfica.

Team news

Chris Herd, Richard Dunne and Marc Albrighton all remain out for the home side but Matthew Lowton is expected to return despite picking up a slight knock against Norwich.

Benitez will be without Ryan Bertrand, and has hinted that Eden Hazard will be doubtful after the Belgium midfielder was substituted against Tottenham on Wednesday. Frank Lampard, who is one goal away from equalling Bobby Tambling's club record, is likely to make a return to the starting eleven along with John Terry.

One to watch

Ramires: The Brazilian was rampant against Spurs, showing a great turn of pace and touch to edge Chelsea ahead. The midfielder has been a key player for the Blues this season and will provide the required drive and speed to test the Villa backline.

Villa will no doubt go for the win they require for top-flight safety and will be reluctant to take it to the last day of the season; Ramires is exactly the kind of player that can exploit any spaces left as the home side push forward. He may prove to be an effective counter-attack option.

Head-to-head battles

  • Matt Lowton v Juan Mata

    Defender faces a test of touch and pace

  • Christian Benteke v John Terry

    In-form striker has power to upset defence

  • Gabriel Agbonlahor v Branislav Ivanovic

    Can Gabby provide adequate service?

Key battle

Christian Benteke has been in superb form this season and will be a huge threat to the Chelsea defence. With a Europa League final on the horizon, Benitez's men will have to keep full concentration to stop the Belgian from adding to his haul of 18 league goals so far this term.

David Luiz has been mercurial lately, and with John Terry set to return to the starting eleven, both will have to be in top form to stop the powerful striker.

Prediction and bet

Aston Villa have not kept a clean sheet in their last 25 games, while Chelsea appear to be riding the crest of a wave in their search for Champions League football next term. The Blues also enjoyed an 8-0 rout of Villa in the first meeting this season.

However, Lambert's side have rallied under immense pressure at the bottom end of the table and will now want to end their final home game of the campaign in style following their rout over Sunderland last time out at Villa Park.

Considering this, the draw looks a tempting price at 14/5 with bet365.

Combine that with an anytime scorecast of Benteke to find the net at any point in the match and the final outcome to be 2-2 and you will see a return of 20/1 with the company.

Final score: 2-2

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