Aston Villa face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening hoping to get back to winning ways following the international break.
Villa picked up four points from the opening three Premier League games last month, and given the disruption over the pre-season schedule as well as the injuries and other issues that arose after the campaign started, Dean Smith and the players will be relatively pleased with the return.
However, they’ll no doubt be desperate to build on that and kick on moving forward, and while there is a difficult run of fixtures coming up, it’s hoped that we make a positive start at Chelsea to build confidence and belief.
As per Villa’s official site, Smith confirmed that Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey are set to return, while John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey will be back too.
Bertrand Traore could be pushing for a spot in the matchday squad, while it’s unclear at this stage if Ezri Konsa is available after his knock prior to the international break.
Neither Emiliano Martinez nor Emiliano Buendia will be available as they quarantine in Croatia after travelling to South America over the break, while Carney Chukwuemeka and Jaden Philogene-Bidace are sidelined due to injury.
As for Chelsea, their official site notes that Thomas Tuchel has ruled out N’Golo Kante and Christian Pulisic, but Romelu Lukaku is expected to recover from a thigh issue to play.
However, Thiago Silva will play no part as things stand due to the ongoing row over international players not travelling, and so time will tell if the situation changes to allow the Brazilian to feature.
Villa XI: Steer; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; Douglas Luiz, McGinn; Bailey, J. Ramsey, Ings; Watkins.
Chelsea XI: Mendy; Christensen, Chalobah, Rudiger; Azpilicueta, Kovacic, Jorginho, Alonso; Havertz, Mount; Lukaku.
Lukaku vs Mings, Konsa
As he showed against Arsenal having returned to Chelsea, Lukaku is a real handful with his physical presence, movement and finishing making him one of the best forwards in Europe.
Mings and Konsa, should that pairing start, need to be up for that challenge and switched on. That means not being physically bullied in direct duels with Lukaku and also being smart when to apply pressure and not leave big gaps in behind for him to exploit.
Bailey vs Alonso, Rudiger
From Smith’s press conference on Friday, it sounds as though Bailey is primed to have a big role now he’s fully fit and he’ll be itching to make an immediate impact.
With Buendia absent, the Jamaican international is likely to be deployed on the right wing, and that will pit him against Marcos Alonso and Antonio Rudiger.
Depending on his level of threat, Bailey has the ability to push Alonso back, and thus take his attacking strengths out the game while also causing Rudiger real problems with his pace and trickery. That will be an area Villa and Smith will want success in.
Much depends on the pairings that both sides go with, but if it’s Kovacic and Jorginho with McGinn and Luiz on the opposite side, they will play a big role in who maintains control over the game.
Villa can’t afford to allow Chelsea to just dictate the tempo and possession throughout, as that will ultimately put us on the back foot and leave us chasing the game for large periods.
If McGinn and Luiz can stamp their authority on it, with the help of the work-rate and energy of our attacking players, it will hopefully give us a foothold in the encounter.
Watkins vs Chelsea back three
It’s hoped that Watkins is ready to return and will go back to leading the line for us. His threat in the final third is an obvious bonus, but his work ethic and ability to press high up the pitch makes a major difference to our game too.
In turn, with the potential of facing a Chelsea back three, he needs quality service to ensure he’s not isolated and his movement is rewarded to keep the defensive trio on their toes.
Further, he’ll have to work hard to lead the first line of pressure and ensure that the defensive unit don’t have too much time on the ball. If Villa can address these key areas, we’ll hope to come away with a positive result.