View Across The Dugout: Aston Villa vs Chelsea ft. Absolute Chelsea

Sunday marks Aston Villa’s second Premier League match since Project Restart has begun and Dean Smith will be looking to manage an impressive fourth win against Frank Lampard. Three points are as important as ever – with Watford and Brighton both picking up important points against Leicester and Arsenal respectively yesterday.

After impressing in the controversial 0-0 draw against Sheffield United on Wednesday, the extra game under our belts could prove beneficial for our clash against Chelsea.

Previous Meetings:

Villa last faced off against Lampard’s Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in December with Villa suffering a 2-1 loss – the goals coming from Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount for Chelsea and Trézéguet for the Villa.

The last time Villa hosted Chelsea at Villa Park was in April of 2016, succumbing to a heavy 4-0 defeat, with goals from Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Alexandre Pato and a brace from Pedro.

Team News:

Frank Lampard confirmed this week that Fikayo Tomori and Callum Hudson-Odoi will miss out through injury, with N’Golo Kanté and Reece James expected to be available for the clash.

Dean Smith stated that Frédéric Guilbert has been training and will make the decision regarding his position in the team soon, he also confirmed that Henri Lansbury has returned to training.

Frédéric Guilbert training (via Neville Williams, Getty Images)

Björn Engels is expected to miss out again, alongside Wesley and Tom Heaton who are sidelined with long term injuries.

View Across The Dugout:

This will be your first competitive match since 8th March – a 4-0 demolition of Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton. How have your players faired since being back at training? And despite the huge win being over 3 months ago, can your players still take confidence from that result?

Although Chelsea were in a good run of form in the league when the suspension was enforced back in March, having gone three games without defeat while knocking Liverpool out, it has been a benefit to allow several of our injured players to have time to recover and come back into the selection fold – Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Pulisic in particular.

I think confidence can be taken, especially with the results in our two pre-restart friendlies against Reading and QPR – albeit against Championship opposition – the squad have the winning feeling back inside them after three months away.

Tammy Abraham is fondly thought of at Villa, after his incredible loan spell here last season. Were you expecting him to score as many goals as he has this season? How good has he been?

He’s been a breath of fresh air. I had my reservations at the start of the season as to whether he’d cut it as a Chelsea no.9, but with 13 league goals so far this term, he’s proving many wrong, including myself. After his brace at Norwich back in August, he’s never really looked back. Abraham has shown his maturity and I think his spells out on loan have really benefitted him. Going from a top Championship side to a team competing on all fronts domestically and in Europe, he deserves real credit for his first full season leading the line for Chelsea.

Speaking of talented strikers, you have recently signed Timo Werner. What do you make of this signing? Should Tammy be worried about his starting place in the team?

It’s a real statement on intent from the club. The transfer ban has been a blessing, and particularly now because of the financial implications that the coronavirus has had on clubs, we are in a fantastic place. Chelsea are now signing players which improve the squad, not just adding for squad depth. But the calibre of Werner – a proven goalscorer both in the Bundesliga and in the Champions League – is a welcome addition.

As for the impact on Tammy, it can only be a good thing. He’s only young and he needs to be pushed. Playing alongside the best will mean he will only improve. He hasn’t had too much competition this season from Michy Batshuayi and Olivier Giroud, and Chelsea can’t just be relying on Abraham to bag the goals. His starting place may be under threat, but Werner has played under a two-man line at RB Leipzig, showing his versality with the ability to play out wide on the left. Also, to compete in every competition you need a big squad and the better quality of depth that Lampard has at his disposal will allow him to rotate the squad to keep everyone fresh. It’s a win for the whole squad.

Tammy Abraham celebrating for Aston Villa (via Getty Images)

Lampard has won a lot of plaudits for trusting his young players this season, with the likes of the aforementioned Tammy Abraham, as well as Reece James, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Billy Gilmour. Who has impressed you most this season?

They’ve all been thrown in the deep end this season with many coming from loan spells in the Championship to playing high-level football, but in general they’ve been superb. All have had their rough patches but personally, for me Mason Mount has been the standout. He divides a lot of opinion, known as ‘Lampard’s man’, but his influence on the team when he is in the side has been notable. He’s the most used player this season in the league having featured in all 29 games. His return of six goals and four assists can only be beaten by Abraham this season, so there’s a lot of positives to build on for next season.

Is there anyone in the Villa side that you think you should be particularly worried about? What are the Chelsea weaknesses that Villa should be looking to exploit?

Set pieces are the major worry. Chelsea have conceded 39 goals this season in the league and we look extremely suspect at the back. Heading into them, I never feel confident that we will defend them; that’s the biggest weakness, albeit Villa have struggled to score goals this term. But John McGinn is a major threat, his return for Villa is a massive boost, however his threat is likely to be nullified by our midfield.

And finally, what do you think your starting XI will look like and can we get a prediction of how you think the game might go?

Arrizabalaga; James, Zouma, Rüdiger, Azpilicueta (c); Kovačić, Gilmour, Barkley; Mount, Abraham, Pulisic. Prediction: Aston Villa 0-2 Chelsea.

Final Thoughts:

I’d expect Villa to field a relatively similar starting XI to that which faced Sheffield United:

Nyland; Elmohamady, Hause, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Luiz, Hourihane; El Ghazi, Davis, Grealish. 

If I’m being optimistic, I’d go with a 2-1 Villa win. It’s an absolute must win for the Villa, who could well surprise Chelsea at home. Given the nature of the situation Villa have found themselves in near the bottom of the table, it’s time we stand up and fight… The right signs were on display against Sheffield United, so I’m feeling relatively optimistic.

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