Chelsea vs Aston Villa
By Dean Gregory
In what was arguably the performance of the season so far, Villa’s 10 men went on to beat Crystal Palace with ease. At times, it looked as though Palace were the team with a man sent off.
Next up in this congested list of fixtures is Chelsea, who right up until their defeat against Arsenal were just ahead of Villa in the table on goal difference. Things change constantly in football though, and it will be Villa who go into the match on top. A win here and the rest of the football world at large will begin to take notice of Dean Smith’s men.
Chelsea – W L L W L
Aston Villa – L W D W W
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Frank Lampard on Arsenal performance
“The reason we went so many games unbeaten was because of [squad rotation] so we must come back on it quickly. Some of it is maybe where we are at as a squad. People wanted to talk us up as title contenders … I never accepted that as the case because we are not there.
“That takes time to build and days like Arsenal are certainly ones that we have to learn a big lesson from. The players have to make it different. The message is clear. The basics are to run and to sprint and the players have to do that on the pitch. The way we approached the Arsenal game in the first half wasn’t right.
“Was it tiredness? No. Did the players lack character against Arsenal? They did and they know that. The first half we lacked it. Second half we didn’t, to be fair.
“I’m not going to generalise that that’s the case because it’s not. But against Arsenal we did and football will punish you if you turn up and have that sort of lack of the basics in your game.”
Dean Smith on defensive record
“I think they take great pride in it.
“There’s a growing maturity within the squad, I like the fact Jack and Emi are arguing in the last minute (against Crystal Palace) when he’s got a goal-kick. Jack feels he should be kicking it one side and Emi feels he should be kicking it the other.
“But that’s what I want from the players, I want the team spirit to want to keep clean sheets and have a great pride in that.
“And I certainly think we’ve got that balance at the moment, which is good.”
Chelsea tend to deploy a 4-3-3 formation with Tammy Abraham up front flanked by Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount either side of Ngolo Kante in the middle and a back four of Reece James, Kurt Zouma, Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell.
With 53.9% possession and 85.4% passing accuracy across the season, Chelsea look to control games and play on the front foot. Kante patrols the space in front of the back four looking to recycle possession at every opportunity, allowing Mount and Kovacic to be more industrious in attack. This can lead to them looking top heavy at times without feeling as though they are losing any balance in the team.
In attack, they have scored 30 goals from 28.72 xG. Only Liverpool have scored more, and this is a testament to the quality they have up front. They take 13.9 shots per game from open play and have managed 18 goals from 16.67 xG in this way. Eight goals from corners show competence from set pieces. They have also won five penalties (scored three), showing their movement in the box is difficult to cope with.
Defensively they have conceded 17 goals from 13.77 xGA. For all their attacking prowess they are left wanting at back at times. Conceding three more goals than they should have at this stage, 15 games into the season, is a potentially damaging underperformance that needs to be addressed.
If they are allowed to play their game, Chelsea are a tough team to deal with boasting plenty of quality, particularly in the forward areas. However they can leave themselves exposed and can be got at.
One to Watch
Timo Werner has been the recipient of much criticism this season, but the numbers suggest he is doing better than he is given credit for. Eight goal contributions (four goals and four assists) leads the team, he takes 2.9 shots per game and his pass success of 79.1 is commendable for a forward player.
His defensive contribution is non-existant however, so there is often space to exploit on his side of the pitch.
Chelsea 1-3 Aston Villa – 31-12-2011
A Didier Drogba penalty was undone by Stephen Ireland, Stylian Petrov and Darren Bent the last time Villa won at Stamford Bridge.
How it could play out
11 games, one win, ten losses over a period of eight years. This is Villa’s record against Chelsea since that last victory at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have always been a problematic team for Villa, but perhaps this is the best opportunity to right that wrong.
Villa are currently on a run of four straight clean sheets in the league and with a number of fringe players stepping up to the plate and putting in exemplary performances, they are starting to look like genuine contenders at the top end of the table.
Ross Barkley will not be eligible for this match against his current employers; a few weeks ago this would be a troubling situation but Villa have coped well without him so far. The loss of Tyrone Mings for this match would also have seemed like a terrible development not long ago, but Kortney Hause has stepped up in Ezri Konsa’s absence and looks just as solid as his counterparts.
Of course, those four clean sheets have come against Wolves, Burnley, West Brom and Crystal Palace; none of these teams have been setting the league alight in an attacking sense, so some perspective is needed here. A similarly resolute performance against Chelsea, especially without the team’s main organiser in Mings, would be much firmer evidence of Villa’s progress.
One thing is for sure – Villa are a team playing with confidence and morale is high all through the squad. Positions that seemed as though they picked themselves earlier in the season no longer look so set in stone, and few teams are as swashbuckling and enterprising in their approach to the game. They look like they can beat anyone.
Chelsea 1-2 Aston Villa
A clean sheet against that attack would be a lot to ask of anyone, even a keeper of Martinez’s quality. But then, a confident Villa attack against a Chelsea defence on the back of conceding three against an uninspiring Arsenal? Villa are a good bet here.