That was just over a year ago, when Frank Lampard was still fairly fresh in the job and back-to-back Premier League defeats by Manchester City and West Ham had underlined the scale of his rebuilding mission.
Then, goals from Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount earned Chelsea a 2-1 victory much more comfortable than the scoreline suggested.
Twelve months and £253million of spending on and not only are Villa a far more dangerous proposition but the situation is much more fraught for Lampard. After three defeats in Chelsea’s last four, this quite simply is a game he cannot afford to lose.
The problems are piling up for Frank Lampard as Chelsea prepare to host Aston Villa
Mason Mount looks dejected during Chelsea’s surprise 3-1 defeat by Arsenal on Boxing Day
The problems have stacked up for the Chelsea boss at a time when the fixture schedule is so demanding it’s nigh on impossible to get on the training ground and solve them.
So Lampard will have to rely on the depth of his squad and his players’ motivation to respond to a poor performance at Arsenal and his own biting criticism to relieve some of the mounting pressure.
His annoyance at the 48-hour gap between the Arsenal and Villa games was well documented but Lampard has little choice but to rotate his squad and get on with it, hoping for a return to form.
Chelsea, who were being heralded as title contenders at the start of the month, have fallen to eighth and any dropped points against seventh-placed Villa will be significant with Manchester City next up.
The loss at the Emirates Stadium was Chelsea’s third defeat in four Premier League matches
From being considered genuine title challengers a few weeks ago, Chelsea now sit eighth
Reports in Germany suggest recently-sacked PSG coach Thomas Tuchel would be interested in the Chelsea job if Lampard departed
Lampard isn’t quite living in fear of losing his job just yet, even though there are whispers in Germany that the recently deposed Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel would be interested should that happen.
After all, it isn’t so long ago that Chelsea were on a 17-match unbeaten run that saw them emerge as prospective challengers to Liverpool and cruise through their Champions League group.
But Lampard will be acutely aware that he will be expected to match or improve on last season’s fourth-place finish and ideally deliver some silverware as well after heavy investment last summer.
So he needs to get his team back to winning ways against Villa but it’s easier said than done.
Firstly, how will his players respond to that very public criticism after the Arsenal loss when they were accused of being ‘lazy’ and forgetting the ‘basics’ of the game, including being bothered to run?
The £53million forward Timo Werner has failed to score in his last 10 outings for Chelsea
Tammy Abraham is in better scoring form but he couldn’t avert the Boxing Day defeat
Premier League unless stated
Monday Aston Villa (H)
January 3 Manchester City (H)
January 10 Morecambe (H) FA Cup third round
January 15 Fulham (A)
January 19 Leicester City (A)
January 27 Wolves (H)
Little can be read into any changes to his starting line-up Lampard makes today given the tight turnaround between the games but it sounded as though he was prepared to drop a good few of them.
Timo Werner, now without a goal in 10 Chelsea matches, would certainly be a prime candidate after being hauled off for Callum Hudson-Odoi at half-time on Boxing Day.
After such a promising start to his Chelsea career, the £53million striker’s slump over the past two months has been baffling.
Werner has already admitted he is struggling with the intensity and physicality of the Premier League but Chelsea can hardly allow him a mid-season break as they struggle for wins.
It would help if Werner returned to his natural centre-forward role but given Tammy Abraham is one of the few Chelsea players in form at present, he will continue fighting with Hudson-Odoi for his left-sided berth.
Hakim Ziyech cannot return from his hamstring injury soon enough. He was in good touch during October and November and there has been a slump in Chelsea’s average shots per game during his absence.
Mind you, using Kai Havertz or Christian Pulisic in his place hasn’t reduced the number of passes into opposition penalty areas or touches inside them.
There’s no doubt, however, that Ziyech could provide some of the missing spark and it isn’t a coincidence that his spell on the sidelines has coincided with this slump in form. The Villa game is likely to come too soon, unfortunately for Lampard.
Hakim Ziyech suffered a hamstring injury against Leeds and Chelsea’s form slumped after
Chelsea are shooting and scoring less since Ziyech suffered his injury, although passes into the opposition box and touches inside it have actually gone up
And at a time when strength-in-depth is so vital, Lampard’s decision to start Ben Chilwell and Reece James at Arsenal, having described them as fitness doubts, didn’t say much for the alternatives at full-back.
James conceded a penalty as he struggled with his knee while Chilwell certainly didn’t look fully fit. Yet they were still preferred to the likes of Emerson, Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta.
It’s doubtful neither James nor Chilwell will be much further on with their recovery after just 48 hours’ grace but Lampard may need them again to get the better of Villa.
Dean Smith’s team will also feature a ghost of Chelsea past determined to prove a point.
Reece James fouls Kieran Tierney to concede a penalty in the Boxing Day loss at Arsenal
Ben Chilwell also looked short of full match fitness having been doubtful for the contest
Aston Villa have former Chelsea forward Bertrand Traore in their ranks and he will be eager to prove a point at Stamford Bridge having played well recently
Bertrand Traore was briefly a first-team choice under Jose Mourinho at the start of that awful 2015-16 season but his time with Chelsea was mostly a familiar tale of loan spells.
He signed for Lyon for £8.8m in 2017 before returning to the Premier League with Villa back in September.
Traore has been playing well in recent games, scoring against Crystal Palace on Boxing Day before Tyrone Mings’ red card saw the forward sacrificed for an extra defender.
Fresher than most as a result, Traore will fancy proving a point at Stamford Bridge, just another worry for Lampard.
Many of Chelsea’s issues are an echo of this point last season, when they were far more inconsistent, usually following up a couple of wins with a frustrating defeat.
Things have moved on in the meantime and the expectations on Lampard have been ramped up. Dips and blips like their current one can all too easily escalate into a full- blown crisis.