Chelsea v Aston Villa: Fabregas retains title hope

Cesc Fabregas has not given up on Chelsea's chances of defending their Premier League title ahead of Aston Villa's visit to Stamford Bridge.

Jose Mourinho's team have endured a dismal opening to this season, taking eight points from as many matches and appearing a shadow of the team that became champions in dominant fashion just five months ago.

Mourinho was given a public vote of confidence after Chelsea's 3-1 home loss to Southampton before the international break, with an outspoken interview given by the Portuguese in the aftermath of that defeat landing him in hot water with the Football Association.

With their manager £50,000 lighter in the pocket following his comments about match officials, 15th-placed Chelsea head into Saturday's match only four points better off than third-bottom Villa.

Despite this dire state of affairs, Fabregas has not given up on reeling in the early Premier League pacesetters Manchester City, who are 10 points clear of Mourinho's men.

"It is a very strange situation for Chelsea to be at the wrong end of the table. And, for most of us at the club, it is the first time we have ever been down there," the Spain midfielder told The Sun.

"Now we know how it feels and we all hate it. At Chelsea, we always want to be at the top of the Premier League, fighting to win the Champions League, competing for every trophy.

"So it's clear this time we are doing things wrong and our performances have not been at the level required at this club. We have to change that, starting this weekend against Aston Villa.

"I still believe we can win the league. It's not going to be easy but a 10-point gap at this stage of the season is not impossible. Last season we took 22 points from our first eight games but this time every team has lost at least one."

Out-of-form defender Branislav Ivanovic is expected to miss out for Chelsea after picking up a hamstring injury on international duty with Serbia, while Diego Costa is suspended.

Mourinho is not the only manager feeling the heat ahead of this game, with Tim Sherwood's feat in saving Aston Villa from relegation last season and leading them to the FA Cup final becoming an increasingly distant memory amid their badly faltering form.

Villa are winless since overcoming AFC Bournemouth 1-0 on the opening day, but assistant manager Ray Wilkins offered backing to the man in the hotseat ahead of taking on his former club.

"I think [a sacking] would be a huge mistake as far as Tim and Aston Villa are concerned," Wilkins told talkSPORT.

"He's an up-and-coming manager, he did extremely well at Tottenham and, let's not forget, it was only six or seven months ago that we were in the FA Cup final and staved off relegation.

"So we really shouldn't be talking about this type of situation. We'll get there, it's going to be a lot of hard work but we'll get there in the finish."

Defenders Ciaran Clark (hip) and Jores Okore (knee) remain out for Villa, who will assess Adama Traore (ankle) and Gabriel Agbonlahor (calf).


Key Opta Stats

- Jose Mourinho has never lost successive home league games as a manager.

- Only Sunderland (18) have conceded more goals than the 17 Chelsea have leaked this term.

- Aston Villa have not kept a Premier League clean sheet at Stamford Bridge since March 1998, conceding 30 times in their past eight visits to Chelsea.

- Chelsea have scored in their last 23 home league matches, the longest run of its kind in the Premier League.

- Similarly, Villa's record of scoring in their past nine away league games is a current Premier League best.

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