Aston Villa vs Chelsea – Game 38 (5/23/2021)

The last game of this “COVID-19” season (against Chelsea) is, somewhat strangely, the first and last game at Villa Park that will have live fans in the stadium.  The penultimate games, including Villa’s last game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, were the first for which a limited number of fans (10,000 in that case) watched their team in-person.  Next season, starting in August, is hoped to be at full capacity.

As we move forward, it is expected that the anomalous away team advantage of the COVID-19 season will disappear with the pandemic.  Villa will certainly be hoping so, having lost more games at home than they won.  As for their away record, they will find winning on the road more difficult than they did this season where they won nine games and tied three, while losing seven.  Ideally, as the team moves to the next level, this year’s away record will prove a foundation to work from.

With so much on the line for Chelsea (specifically a Champions League slot if they win), the crowd will hardly be a distraction for the visitors.  However, with Villa having nothing to gain or lose (they stay in the 11th slot either way), a raucous and supportive crowd will be a boost.

That is just the first of many reasons to feel positive about this weekend’s final game of the season for the Villans.  It comes after a roller-coaster season that started with four straight wins including 7-2 over Liverpool at Villa Park and then a 1-0 win over top-6 Leicester at King Stadium.

Injuries to captain Jack Grealish and, to a lesser extent, to Ross Barkley upset the rhythm of the team and the good fortune that the team experienced early, naturally, balanced out.  Still, an 11th place finish is a major improvement over 17th, and a vindication of the key offseason acquisitions (Emi Martinez, Matty Cash, Traore, and Ollie Watkins) that all paid-off handsomely.

With nothing on the line, we still benefit from the alignment of key factors: Grealish is coming back in reaching game fitness at just the right time and with hunger to complete the season on a winning note and him at the helm.  Meanwhile the rest of the team has all the best elements available.  A back four (Konsa, Hause, Mings, and Targett) that is one the most solid in the Premier League.  Luiz and McGinn have been outstanding all year in midfield with Nakamba a decent alternate.

As for goals, with Grealish back he can score and assist at the highest level while El Ghazi and Traore have come into their own as scoring threats.  As for Watkins, he solved the problem of what to do when the best assister in the Premier League (Grealish) was not available, he helps himself!  He can pick-pockets in plain-view.

Finally, beating a Spurs team with Harry Kane, Son Heung Min, Gareth Bale and Hugo Lloris in the line-up, provided excellent preparation and a confidence boost.  I will be very surprised in Villa lose, though they may be satisfied to do enough to stop Chelsea using Villa Park to celebrate.  It promises to be quite a game.

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