Chelsea-Aston Villa Preview

The Associated Press

Chelsea's depth at forward is a big reason why they're starting to create some separation at the top of the Premier League.

Their remaining schedule is so favourable that they may only increase their advantage in the championship race.

With Fernando Torres expected to be out through injury, manager Jose Mourinho will decide between starting Samuel Eto'o or Demba Ba up top as the Blues go for a fifth straight win over Aston Villa on Saturday.

Chelsea (20-6-3) have built a seven-point lead atop the league table on second-place Liverpool and Arsenal , while fourth-place Manchester City are nine back. However, the Blues have played one more match than the Reds and Gunners and three more than City.

Chelsea, though, have looked every bit like a team on its way to a title, winning 11 of 14 league matches (11-3-0) while conceding just five goals.

The forwards are now starting to find the back of the net on a regular basis, as Chelsea followed a 3-1 win at Fulham on March 1 with a 4-0 thrashing of Tottenham last weekend.

Andre Schurrle had a hat trick against the Cottagers, while Ba scored twice versus Spurs.

Eto'o's inclusion last Saturday came at the expense of Torres, who was pulled from the lineup after suffering a groin injury during warm-ups.

Ba's late double salvo against Spurs, however, could result in him getting the nod ahead of Eto'o this week. Those goals were the forward's first since scoring in a 1-0 win over Steaua Bucuresti in Champions League on Dec. 11. That was also the last time he was in the lineup, and he hasn't started a league match since a 3-1 victory at Norwich on Oct. 6.

"Ba is very important," manager Jose Mourinho told the team's official website. "I proved earlier in the season that I was right to have three strikers because when one is injured you need the other two. It's one of the best decisions we made to keep three strikers.

"It's good for him that he scored. They're not the winning goals but they're goals and they give confidence."

Ba and Chelsea may be rather confident when looking at the remaining nine fixtures in the Premier League, as seven of those opponents currently reside in the bottom half of the table and two - Sunderland and Cardiff City - are in the drop zone.

The Blues have also outscored Aston Villa 16-4 while winning four straight meetings, including 2-1 at home on Aug. 21.

Villa (8-7-13) may be entering the weekend 11th in the Premier League, but they're just six points clear of the relegation zone.

They've been idle since a 4-1 win over Norwich City on March 2, and they're aiming for back-to-back league victories for the first time since Sept. 21-28.

While Mourinho mulls his options at forward, the Villans are expected to have Christian Benteke up top. The Belgian international scored two goals against the Canaries, one coming on a brilliant bicycle kick.

Benteke leads Villa with 10 goals in all competitions, but he's well short of his 23 from last season - his first in the Premier League.

"People talk about a dip this season but he has had a few injuries and I know from personal experience how much of an issue they can be," forward Gabriel Agbonlahor told the team's official website. "It's no coincidence that since he's come back from his fitness problems, he's shone again."

Benteke has scored in each of the past two meetings with Chelsea.

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