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Focus: Will Chelsea see off Sherwood inspired by Loftus-Cheek in midfield?

While the media have fixated on Jose Mourinho’s crumbling dynasty at Stamford Bridge, Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa have gradually sunk into the mire and, almost unnoticed, are now deep in crisis.

Bizarre tactical mishaps and increasingly directionless performances have left Sherwood with just two games to save his job according to repirts, but a visit to the champions is an opportunity for him to prove his man-management skills and secure a famous result.

It's simply impossible to predict Villa matches. Moving in the space of eight games from 4-3-3 to 4-2-2-2 to a diamond 4-4-2 and, finally, an untested 3-5-2 against Stoke, Villa’s formation and tactical strategy has been eclectic to the point of pure chaos. 

Screen grabs from Villa’s last two home matches – against Stoke (left) and West Brom (right) – highlight the inconsistency of their playing style.

However, galvanising a team is supposedly Sherwood’s greatest asset and considering the Villa players seem largely content with their manager’s methods it should be easy to motivate them to save his job at Stamford Bridge. As a meek Chelsea cower away from the limelight it is greater energy, desire and fearlessness that is leading to so many victories for their opponents; Villa, if bold, could be the next team to pull off a not-so-shocking shock result.

Chelsea’s low confidence is producing some careless errors, and the primary weakness of late is being second best aerially; Porto opened the scoring in their 2-1 victory with a headed goal from a corner, and Southampton equalised in Chelsea’s last match via a Graziano Pelle knock-down. Villa have won more aerial duels (22.4 per match) than any other club, with Rudy Gestede second in the table behind Christian Benteke (6.5 aerials won per match). It's from set-pieces that Villa could flourish.

Villa won 35 aerial duels against West Brom (left) and Gestede won eight against Sunderland (right).

The most tactically interesting element of this match (aside from finding out what formation and style Sherwood plumps for) is in Chelsea’s central midfield where Ruben Loftus-Cheek is expected to start. Cesc Fabregas’s deficiencies are now well documented, and in recent performances both Ramires and John Obi Mikel have been equally poor; trusting in youth is well overdue.

Defensively, Mikel’s performance against Everton and Fabregas’s against Newcastle were simply not good enough.

Sherwood will most likely recall Jack Grealish to the starting line-up, and if he does then it's the head-to-head between these two young English players that will dictate whether Villa stand a chance. With the shadow of Brendan Rodgers & Co. looming behind him, Sherwood will know his team must attack Chelsea with everything they’ve got.

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