by Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs Chelsea
After some good fortune helped Villa secure a point against Sheffield United, they next welcome Chelsea to Villa Park. Chelsea were on a solid run of form before lockdown, and will hope to consolidate their Champions League position.
Can Villa take advantage of having an extra restart game under their belts to get out of the relegation zone?
Aston Villa – L L L L D
Chelsea – D L W D W
Dean Smith on defensive situation
“We’ve all taken a little bit of stick and rightly so with the goals we’ve conceded – coaches and players. Our defensive organisation hasn’t been what we’ve been working on, on the training ground and we’ve managed over the last 12 to 14 weeks to put that right.
“We’ve got to do it now against some real top drawer players in Chelsea. My centre-halves know too well how good Tammy can be so we’ve got to be even better now on Sunday.
“It is not just the defenders. It is a team game, you score from defenders sometimes playing a ball through but you have to defend as a team as well.
“There are certain things we have worked on with the back four but it is more the group chats we have been having.
“There are lots of different things we have shown them but certainly the video work during the lockdown, allowing them to talk about it freely and what they have seen and what they think we can do.
“We are guiding them in that direction and the players have picked up an awful lot. We have taken away grey areas and made it very black and white.”
Frank Lampard on season remainder
“We’ve trained really well and had some friendlies but nothing replicates the Premier League. We have to go full throttle no matter what game it is in terms of giving it everything. It won’t be easy but we need to be focused and be at our best.
“We are looking to see what the change will be and it has been strong in Germany, but we have to see what the future will be in the Premier League.
“We are going to have to use all the squad, but it’s like tournament football.”
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Chelsea have made use of a number of formations across the season, but they generally favour a 4-3-3 with Tammy Abraham up front, Ngolo Kante and Jorginho shielding the defence, and Andreas Christensen partnering Kurt Zouma in defence.
They look to dominate matches with 57.4% average possession across the season, and an impressive 84.8% average pass success. 87% of their passes are played short, showing they have little trouble stamping their mark on games.
An average of 16.58 shots has generated an xG of 56.49 across the season, from which they have scored 51 goals. They are not afraid of taking chances if one presents itself, even when that chance is little more than a shot in the dark. It is a strategy that pays off for a team that is confident in its ability.
Defensively, their 39 conceded goals comes from an xGA of 34.34. As is often the case, a team with attacking prowess that looks to control a match has to leave themselves vulnerable in the process, and Chelsea are no different.
This is perhaps because they appear to have changed tack since the start of the season – where once it seemed they focused on shoring up their defence and being tough to break down, they now encourage their full-backs to get up the pitch and press the opponent.
Chelsea play with the philosophy that winning simply means scoring more goals than the opponent – they have kept only six clean sheets all season, a testament to the faith they have in their attacking focus. It has served them well so far – does Villa have what it takes to withstand them and take the game to them?
One to Watch
Few Villa fans will be surprised with Tammy Abraham’s success as Chelsea’s main striker this season. He has carried the poacher instincts he demonstrated last season into the Premier League, with a respectable 13 goals and three assists. It seems almost certain he will score if he receives the proper service.
Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea – 15-03-2014
The last time Villa beat Chelsea in the Premier League at home, Fabian Delph scored the 82nd minute winner.
Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa – 04-12-2019
Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount scored either side of a Trézéguet equalizer to secure the win. At this stage, Villa had taken only one point off teams starting in the top four this season, a troubling statistic.
How it Could Play Out
To say Villa find themselves in a difficult position is an understatement. They have the worst defence in the league at the moment, and they will be taking on a team that is known for being attack-focused. What’s more, their record against teams in Chelsea’s position is dismal, and has been since their last Premier League campaign.
Nobody knows the gravity of the situation more than Villa’s players, however, and it will be weighing heavily on their minds. The game against Sheffield United, who currently occupy sixth place, showed some improvement in the defence. Sheffield are not an attacking outfit of course, but they were still limited to only one shot on target to Villa’s five.
There are still glaring problems, which hopefully can be blamed on fatigue from the long break. Sheffield, a team known for playing on the back foot, had 55% of the possession in the match. Against a team who actually do try to keep the ball, Villa can expect to be under considerable pressure.
A lack of urgency and desire in the final half-hour was a further concern.
John McGinn’s return to the team provides a welcome boost in midfield grit, something which will be crucial if Villa hope to get anything from this match. A strong midfield duo of McGinn and Nakamba is perhaps Villa’s best hope of maintaining a foothold.
Something else that has become painfully obvious is how lacking Villa still are in attack. This has led to large portions of the fan base calling for a striking duo to be used for the run-in – Keinan Davis’ proven physicality combined with the more mobile Samatta would be an ideal partnership, one that has been tried and tested for years.
Sure, it is not imaginative, but right now consistency is crucial. With Davis’ ability to link the midfield and the attack, as well as provide an out-ball for the defence, and Samatta’s intelligent runs and aerial ability, Villa might look more dangerous. It can’t hurt to try it, right?
Hopefully, Villa’s extra game in the restart period will give them an edge in terms of fitness and being used to the behind-closed-doors environment.
Villa are in a predicament, but they are still in touch. The season is not over yet, but they need to at least see signs of improvement in this game that suggest they can save themselves.
Aston Villa 0-1 Chelsea
Historical precedent is not on Villa’s side here, nor is their recent form. There is still the wildcard of the lockdown’s effect on each team to consider however, and the fact that Villa have a competitive match under their belt since the restart – hopefully, that can provide a shock advantage.