Aston Villa vs Chelsea– Pre-game Assessment

Saturday, April 27, 20:00 – Villa Park

Referee: Craig Pawson

The big question facing our Villans about Saturday evening’s Premier League fixture against Chelsea is which Blues team will turn-up.  They have been inconsistent this season, partly because of the distraction of both Cup competitions, the F. A. and the EFL.  Reaching the semis in the F.A. and the final in the EFL, they have played almost as many games as our Villans this season (46 versus 51 for us).  The extra games mean more injuries and more shuffling of the squad to get eleven starters who can play 90 minutes at pace. At Villa Park, Chelsea will be missing, through injury, Enzo Fernandez, Reece James, Levi Colwill, Ben Chilwell, Carney Chukwuemeka, Raheem Sterling, Wesley Fofana, and Robert Sanchez.

Another factor is how much the Blues rely on Cole Palmer, their leading scorer.  Without Palmer at the Emirates on Tuesday, they only conjured up seven shots of which only one was on target.  They eventually lost 5-0 to Arsenal. That was the Gunners’ first game in front of their home fans since we shut-out those same Gunners 2-0 just nine days prior.  A huge relief for Gunners’ fans and a reminder to Blues’ fans as to how far they have sunk since the Roman Abramovich days. 

With the media saying manager Mauricio Pochettino is likely to be sacked and Jose Mourinho likely to return if they don’t qualify for European competition next season, that may be the incentive the team needs to perform at its best. Despite their missing stars, the Blues can still pull-off an upset. Currently in 9th place, they can catch West Ham, Newcastle, and Manchester United and grab a Europa slot, but every game of their six remaining counts, starting with their visit to Brum.

Fortunately, our Villans’ stars are aligned.  Douglas Luiz will be returning after his suspension knowing that the team can succeed without him (two excellent wins).  Also, the players that beat Bournemouth (and the subs) should all be available (and rested).

Still, our performances against the Blues have been uneven this season.  In the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge last September, we played well, took advantage of a rash tackle that red-carded Malo Gusto, and went on to win 1-0 thanks to an excellent Ollie Watkins opportunistic strike.

We followed up with a 0-0 tie in the F. A. Cup 4th round at Stamford Bridge in January, where we outplayed and outshot the hosts. The team’s frustration at not finishing the job, was mitigated by confidence that we could complete the job in the replay at Villa Park.  That happened to be in the middle of our midwinter doldrums, and we allowed two early Chelsea goals and never got our rhythm, losing 3-1.

Fortunately, despite the league doldrums we have been able to progress in the Europa Conference League to the semi-finals and our victory last week against an in-form Bournemouth, after being behind, should reestablish the belief that Villa Park is a fortress. 

Not that we need another incentive, but beating Chelsea would put Spurs in the position of having to host Arsenal on Sunday, nine points behind us. That will create even more pressure on our only realistic rival for that 4th spot, convinced that only a win against the Premier League leaders will be satisfactory.  Arsenal will be similarly motivated knowing that Manchester City is one point behind them with a game in-hand.  The Gunners will also be desperate to win. What a pivotal weekend that could see us much closer to the UEFA Champions League next season.

Regarding the line-up, Emery could select last week’s winning team but he will almost certainly not want to be without Luiz.  Resting Bailey on the bench to create the room for Douglas might be the only change from last Sunday’s starters.

Tactically, I see Emery repeating the strategy that worked against Arsenal: possession, control, and clinical finishing.

Oh yes, one more thing. Every Villan must be alert to Cole Palmer, wherever he is on the field. Emery will be!

Result Prediction:

Prediction:  Aston Villa 2, Chelsea 0

Predicted Villa Line-Up:

Aston Villa: (4, 2, 3, 1) Martínez, Cash, Konsa, Torres, Digne, Tielemans, McGinn, Diaby, Luiz, Rogers, Watkins

Subs: Olsen, Lenglet, Zaniolo, Iroegbunam, Bailey, Chambers, Kesler-Hayden, Kellyman

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