Chelsea vs Aston Villa
By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa continued their steady march through the season with a spirited draw away at Manchester United. Next up is a much bigger test, however – 4th place Chelsea await at Stamford Bridge.
Despite being in something of a transition period, Chelsea, currently occupy a coveted top four spot, comfortably six points ahead of 5th place Tottenham. Chelsea have enjoyed a solid season so far. However, they are currently on a two-game losing streak, and will be looking to get back to form soon.
Can Villa inflict a hat-trick of defeats on them?
Chelsea – W W W L L
Aston Villa – L L L W D
20% off still on selected lines…
Frank Lampard on Tammy Abraham
“We’re giving him every possible chance to be fit. Still got some pain in the area of the injury, make a judgement tomorrow.
“It’s painful for him, so it’s a pain threshold and whether it affects his movements. So I wouldn’t want to commit today.
“He was in good form, and with players that are important you want to give them as much time.
“He’s keen and we’re trying our best to give him time, but if he’s not ready we have to go in a different route anyway.”
Dean Smith on John Terry
“He’ll be excited for it. He always said he would never go back and play against them and I’m certainly not going to pick him!
“I’m sure he’ll get an unbelievable reception after the playing career he’s had at that football club and ties at that football club. He’ll be looking forward to going back, I’m sure it’ll be a little bit different for him. His mind has been solely on helping us to try and beat the club he loves.
“John’s been in football a long time, he knows going back will be special for him, he’s been back there watching games – he’ll get an unbelievable reception there and rightly so.”
Frank Lampard lines his side up in either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 with Tammy Abraham up front, flanked by Willian and either Callum Hudson-Odoi or Christian Pulisic. Mason Mount supports the attack from midfield, while Fikayo Tomori is partnered in defence by either Kurt Zouma or Andreas Christensen.
Chelsea do a good job of controlling their games, averaging 56.9% possession so far this season. 18.1 tackles per game suggests they play aggressively when they need to, while 13.1 dribbles and 16.7 shots shows they are very direct.
They build their attack around Abraham who, as Villa fans will know, excels at finding space in the box. As a result, 24 of Chelsea’s 28 goals have been in the penalty area, with three of those coming from the six yard box. Willian and Hudson-Odoi are the main source of assists, with three each.
Despite pushing up high, the full-backs don’t contribute as much to the attack with only Azpilicueta registering any assists from that position so far. This is not for a lack of trying – Azpilicueta provides 1.2 key passes per game, while Emerson provides 1.3.
It would be easy to assume they focus more on their defensive duties; however, this is a notable weakness for Chelsea. They face a relatively low 8.9 shots per game, but have conceded 20 so far. Their possession heavy play style plus a robust shape keeps opposing chances to a minimum, but Kepa Arrizabalaga does not inspire total confidence.
Chelsea’s total xG of 29.69 shows they are more than capable of forging quality chances, but there are some games where this doesn’t quite pan out for them. Against Burnley, they only logged 0.99 xG – however, they managed to score four goals anyway, showing there is enormous quality throughout the team that can really shine through when necessary.
Chelsea will punish any and every mistake Villa make. Perhaps more so even than against Liverpool and Man City, Villa will need to be careful.
One to Watch
Tammy Abraham plays after winning his race to be fit. 10 goals and two assists places him behind only Jamie Vardy in terms of goal contributions this season. It goes without saying the sheer predatory instinct he possesses, and he has done an excellent job carrying that ability through to the Premier League.
He knows Mings well from last season too, so he will know more than most how to get the better of him.
Chelsea 1-3 Aston Villa – 31-12-2011
Villa saw out the year in solid fashion thanks to goals from Stephen Ireland, Stilian Petrov and Darren Bent.
How it could play out
Chelsea are looking much stronger this season than last overall, in spite of the fact they sold off their talisman in Eden Hazard. Their free flowing football this season suggests they relied on him too much – without someone of his quality around, the burden must fall on everybody’s shoulders.
The man who has picked up the slack arguably more than most is Abraham. No doubt his reunion with the team he helped lift into the Premier League will provide an additional storyline to the game. It is difficult to imagine how anybody could have thought he would struggle to make it in this league, considering his quality in the Championship.
Who knows? If not for a transfer ban, he could have been proving his worth with Villa yet again.
Of course, for all his brilliance, Tammy was never the star of Villa. A player like him requires quality around him to excel, and he found it mostly in the form of Grealish. Like Tammy, it is difficult to understand how people continue to doubt Jack’s ability.
He has more than landed on his feet in the Premier League, drawing more fouls than anyone else, creating bags of chances for his team mates and it has now come to light that he has more goal contributions so far than any other English midfielder. Overrated? Not a chance.
A common consensus among Villa fans at the moment however is that John McGinn is flagging a little. The guy never stops running, giving 100% every minute of every game. It makes sense that he would be starting to feel the effects by now.
And there’s some precedent to it, too – remember last season, when he started to slow down and his influence waned a little? He picked up a two-game ban, had a sit down for a bit and came back with a vengeance. Maybe leaving him out of a game or two is worth considering. Of course, the problem would be when.
Although the truth maybe closer to the fact that McGinn is now playing a more withdrawn role in the midfield engine room, allowing Grealish to express himself and to accommodate Conor Hourihane.
Three points from this game would be nice, but a draw would be a good result for Villa too. It’s a hectic schedule this month, so any away points would be welcome in terms of survival this season.
Chelsea 1-1 Aston Villa
Chelsea are a force to be reckoned with, but Villa are no pushovers, as they showed at Old Trafford. A win is certainly not outside the realm of possibility here if they can keep Abraham quiet, but a spirited draw would be something to be proud of too.