Villa v Chelsea preview: Lambert - My players are bang in form
It's fair to say the Villa Park atmosphere will be very different at kick-off to that which pervaded the consciousness on the final whistle at Stamford Bridge earlier this season.
Villa had been thumped by the Champions League winners and Paul Lambert had a face like thunder as he trudged disconsolately off the pitch.
Despite the tremendous hurt he felt, Lambert had every faith that, given the necessary time, his starlets would start shining on the Barclays Premier League stage.
Many doubted him. But he never doubted himself or his fresh and optimistic approach to team affairs, blending cavalier youth with spunky experience.
Now, several months on, he's been proved right with the likes of Gabby Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke, Andi Weimann, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph, Matt Lowton, Brad Guzan and Ron Vlaar coming very much to the fore.
Lambert refused to dwell on the hammering his team suffered as he faced the media masses this week, instead insisting that his team had "certainly progressed" since that dreadful day.
He refused to say, even, that the defeat to the Blues on that cold, bitter evening was the nadir of the season, telling us that the losses to Tottenham and, definitely, Bradford hurt just as much.
Lambert doesn't go in for grand eulogies - whether negative or positive - and he's adamant that the loss, while bitter at the time, will not be in "our brains" as the claret and blues face the capital aristocrats once again.
That's partly because he doesn't let emotions linger in camp and also because the lift in confidence has been so marked.
Lambert will take his place in the dugout knowing the team will excite him - and supporters - out on the hallowed turf, striving with every sinew, yes, but also playing with the gay abandon that belief offers you.
That's how far his players have come.
He said: "We have been in fantastic form, no doubt about it.
"Since the festive period, we have been in terrific form.
"Chelsea turned us over back then as everyone knows. That was low.
"Even though you are up against that calibre of team, you still don't want to lose. I hate getting beaten.
"But it was the manner and the way it happened. It could have been more. It was one of those days where you sit there and think 'you can't do anything to stop this.'
"But they were on fire that day too. That can happen because they have world-class players on their side.
"But I really don't think that defeat at Stamford Bridge will still be in their brain going into this one.
"We have certainly progressed from that. We will be a different team.
"I have to give great credit to the side since then. They never got their heads down and wilted with it.
"They kept their heads and kept on going. Now the feeling is there for all to see. We have been playing really well.
"We are a threat, everyone knows that. We have players who can hurt teams.
"I am pretty sure Chelsea will know we have lads on the top of their game at the minute.
"We know it's going to be hard. The beauty of it is that everyone except ourselves and our fans will expect Chelsea to win it because of the team they are.
"I just think the confidence is there. That plays a major part in football.
"There are a lot of players in my team who are bang in top form at the right moment.
"The biggest barometer is the crowd. That's a massive thing.
"The lads have belief in it too. That's what winning does to you - it gives you the confidence to go and compete regardless of who you are playing against.
"You might not always win but as long as you compete and have that never-say-die attitude, that will stand you in good stead."
That positive spirit has been very much a part of the man we will applaud warmly when the game draws to a close on Saturday afternoon.
Skipper Stan Petrov has been firmly in our thoughts all season as he's battled leukaemia bravely and stubbornly these past fourteen months.
We have clapped relentlessly on the 19th minute of every game while keeping him in our thoughts.
But now Petrov will be welcomed back into the fold in person on the lap of appreciation as he says his playing farewells in B6.
Lambert will be delighted to see his good mate take to the pitch one final time - and knows Petrov will be emotional when he's greeted by his adoring masses.
He added: "I think the stadium will be absolutely rocking on Saturday. Stan being here will just add to the whole thing.
"I am pretty sure the Chelsea fans will join in the 19th minute applause too.
"Overall, I think it will be an emotional day for Stan himself."
To be fair, there won't be a dry eye in the house and let's hope the send-off comes after a performance Stan himself would have been proud of.
Villa v Chelsea
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AVTV DON'T MISS
Paul Lambert will give Matt Lowton a late fitness test as he looks to finalise his team for the Chelsea game on Saturday.
Lowton was forced off against Norwich just before the half-hour mark with a thigh strain.
And the right-back is still a doubt for the clash with the Blues this weekend.
But Lambert has total confidence in Eric Lichaj, if Lowton misses out.
In other team news, Karim El Ahmadi and Ciaran Clark are both still injured for Saturday.
Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard will start against Villa as he continues his bid to become their all-time top scorer.
John Obi Mikel is fit again but Eden Hazard and Victor Moses are doubts.
GENTING BETTING GUIDE
Villa to win - 3/1
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Good luck and let's hope for a great result!
Villa will be wearing their traditional home kit of claret and blue.
Paul Lambert's side have won five of their last eight games, scoring eighteen times in the process.
Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor have scored thirteen of those eighteen goals.
Christian Benteke needs two goals to become the first Villa player to score twenty in a league season since Peter Withe in the 1980-1981 title-winning campaign.
Villa have only lost two of their last thirteen games at home to Chelsea.
Go to full match coverage for Aston Villa 1 - 2 Chelsea (10th May 2013) >
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