What’s this? A midweek Complete Preview? Blame the Premier League schedule.
Words: Guy Poxon | @GuyPoxon
A spirited performance grafted away at Old Trafford was enough for a point, and the game could have tipped Aston Villa’s way in the end.
But will Stamford Bridge be more of a test than a faltering Manchester United?
Frank Lampard will hope so, with bad memories of Dean Smith and Aston Villa still in recent memory.
Whoah, Tammy Tammy
Most, if not all Aston Villa fans will be pleased to see Tammy Abraham’s excellent start to the season.
He has been Chelsea’s best player this season, scoring 10 goals in the Premier League so far and has only been out-scored by Jamie Vardy. Tammy has also racked up a 7.39 rating in the league too – which is head and shoulders above the majority of his colleagues.
It’s not just goals that make the ex-Villa striker a threat. He’s a jack of all trades – winning 3.1 aerial duels per game and taking the same number of shots, as well as making one key pass per game and grabbing two assists already this season.
He takes a lot of risks – reflected in the fact that he’s dispossessed over twice per game (twice as many times as Wesley) – but his risk-taking is reflected in his productivity too.
The English international does remain a doubt for today’s clash, however. Perhaps he’ll fancy doing his old friends a favour, and sit this one out.
When you think of American footballers in the Premier League, the likes of Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Brad Friedel come to mind.
The latest arrival from across the pond is not bald, or a goalkeeper, and in fact has a bit more of a Clint Dempsey feel about him – and the talent to match too.
Christian Pulisic went to Dortmund at the age of sixteen and was considered somewhat of a wonderkid within their fabled youth set-up. He immediately scored and assisted at a ratio of over one per game.
Quickly advancing to their first team, Pulisic learned from the likes of Pierre-Emmerick Aubamayang and Marco Reus and has consistently shown a certain level of productivity even at such a high level. He’s always popped up with goals and assists throughout his career.
Now, at 21-years-old, Pulisic is Chelsea’s current highest-rated, fully fit player. He’s had the best start to his career so far; with five goals and two assists in the league – which are complemented by his 4.79 xG and 20.5 xA.
He looks like Chelsea’s danger man at the moment, but can leave space in behind – if Aston Villa are to get anything at the Bridge this evening, they need to contain Christian and exploit his defensive contribution.
8-6-6, the Battle of the 4-3-3
Predicted Line-Up (4-3-3): Kepa (GK), Azpilicueta, Zouma, Tomori, Alonso, Kovacic, Jorginho, Kante, Willian, Batshuayi, Pulisic
Lampard’s Chelsea side are creating lots of scoring opportunities, with whingers who come inside and link up with a creative midfield to play quick passes around the opposition.
They have good long ball players – but most (well over 90%) of their XG comes from normal build-up play rather than super quick attacks or a long ball counter-attack.
A young team, still learning the ropes?
Interestingly, despite forming great attacking combinations and build-up play, when Chelsea are playing the ball slowly as the “Premier League average”, they have a negative goal difference which is backed up by a negative difference in xG and XGA.
This is backed up by a negative difference in xG and xGA when the actual goal difference is +2 for Chelsea or more, or -1 or less against Chelsea’s favour.
What does this mean? Well, it could mean that Chelsea are trying hard and focusing well on what they do best – creating chances – when the game is even, or slightly in Chelsea’s favour, but when Chelsea go a goal down, they seem to get a little rattled and lose their focus.
Shaky(ish) in defence, but more resilient than Villa
Despite having the second-highest xG in the league at 29.55, compared to Aston Villa’s 20.23, which is 7th. Chelsea have been criticised for having a susceptible defence – and to be fair they have conceded 20 goals so far which is only two less than Aston Villa who sit in 15th.
Their xGA suggests that this analysis isn’t quite that simple as Chelsea sit with the 6th best defence in the league for expected goals against.
Looking at the ratings, and Chelsea’s personnel at the back beat Villa’s defenders man-for-man in ever position, notably due to the lack of Frederic Guilbert in this game. Only Matt Targett’s 7.22 rating gets close to Alonso’s 7.23. Make no mistake, Chelsea’s defence might be too stubborn for Aston Villa, they are 4th in the league for a reason after all.
Couple that with the ever-impressive N’Golo Kante playing slightly further up the pitch in a sort of “Super-super John McGinn” fashion, with bursting runs, big tackles and the additional attacking play, and you can see why Chelsea look promising this season for a spot in the top four.
A Mount-ain to Climb
There is some positivity though. Not least of which is the fact that, despite Mason Mount’s impressive start to the season in terms of goals, Chelsea have stumbled slightly in the same manner as their young Englishman.
Mount last scored in early October, and has since put in a number of fairly average performances. He is, after all, incredibly young – and such inconsistency can plague young players who begin to get noticed by their opposition. Aston Villa fans will hope that if Mount features, he remains quiet and well-marked.
Chelsea’s slight dip in form is less extreme – losing two on the bounce for the first time this season and after a six-game winning streak.
It is unlikely that Aston Villa will win this game – and three losses on the bounce for Chelsea would be highly uncharacteristic. Plus, Aston Villa find themselves without Frederic Guilbert and Anwar El Ghazi also looks a doubt after a few good weeks for the Dutch winger.
Nevertheless, it’s a big chance for Trezeguet and Elmohamady, club and countrymen, to step in and make a mark. The first Egyptian is making a good go of his first season in England, scoring against Liverpool and Wolves recently, and being unlucky not to score against Manchester United if not for a stray Jack Grealish boot adjudging the move offside.
Trezeguet is offering a direct outlet in the same way El Ghazi does – an assist and two goals, 1.8 shots per game, 0.7 key passes, 1.5 dribbles, drawing in 1.4 fouls, all per 90 minutes. He’s improved throughout the season and no doubt he’ll continue to have a big part to play
Meanwhile, Elmohamady will likely return to Villa’s defence. He doesn’t offer the pace of Guilbert, but Elmo can occasionally put in a lethal cross, which might be the aim of the game for Villa. Remember, Lampard’s Derby were denied the most expensive prize in football on a day that started with an Elmohamady cross to Anwar El Ghazi.
Equally, Elmohamady’s experienced head and height in defence, compared to his French counterpart, might just be vital in the game’s deciding moments.