The FourFourTwo Preview: Chelsea vs Aston Villa
A turning point for the Special One. (If all goes to plan.)
- Chelsea 1-3 So’ton (Prem)
- Porto 2-1 Chelsea (CL)
- Newcastle 2-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Walsall 1-4 Chelsea (LC)
- Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Villa 0-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Liverpool 3-2 Villa (Prem)
- Villa 1-0 Birmingham (LC)
- Villa 0-1 WBA (Prem)
- Leicester 3-2 Villa (Prem)
Of all the shocks to have struck the Premier League so far this season – the arrival of Jurgen Klopp, Dick Advocaat’s resignation (OK, that wasn't a shock), Sam Allardyce's return (and neither was that), the explosion of Erik Lamela as a half-decent winger at Spurs – last week’s Chelsea-issued vote of confidence for Jose Mourinho was as strange as they come.
Two months ago, the Portuguese was riding high, his team favourites to retain a title they’d claimed so easily during the previous campaign. Then along came Eva-gate and a tactical tailspin that left many fans questioning his decisions – both on and off the pitch. John Terry was dropped and Branislav Ivanovic established as untouchable despite a string of nightmarish performances. When Willian was substituted during the 3-1 home defeat to Southampton in September, the Stamford Bridge crowd voiced their displeasure. (Though it’s worth noting that, according to Mourinho, the Brazilian had been vomiting at half-time. “They boo in a moment where they don't know what's going on,” he later said.)
Much of Chelsea’s problems have stemmed from misfiring and malfunctioning personnel. Alongside Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregras have underperformed; Thibaut Courtois’s injury has been a major blow, as was Diego Costa’s decision to play rugby against Arsenal. And how the Blues missed his presence up front during that three-game suspension.
It’s the negative rhetoric emerging from Stamford Bridge that’s most telling, however: rarely is it a good thing when a club directorship insists they’re standing by their man. Currently slumped in 16th place and trailing league leaders Manchester City by 10 points, Mourinho needs a win and fast.
Thank goodness, then, for Aston Villa. Having nailed Bournemouth on the opening day of the season, Tim Sherwood’s side are still awaiting their second league victory of 2015/16. The only bright note since then was a League Cup win over loathed rivals Birmingham City, though their performance against the Championship side was so poor it merited mass booing at half-time. “We were on a hiding to nothing tonight,” Sherwood said after that encounter. “All we could do was come here and fail. We didn’t. We showed a lot of bottle.”
Bottle: it’s on such characteristics that Sherwood has nailed his managerial MO. Sadly, in a league as tactically whipsnap as the Premier League, assets such as “bottle”, “guts” and “heart” can only take you so far.
Villa’s latest result, their fourth straight defeat – this time to Stoke, at home – was their malaise in a nutshell. Bereft of imagination, they were unable to break down a resolute defence and eventually crumbled to a Marko Arnautovic goal. The good news for Villa is that Chelsea are experiencing an injury or two in defence; the bad is that the increasingly porous Ivanovic is one of the crocked. Sherwood will need to look for gifts elsewhere if he’s to avoid another rotten afternoon. For Jose, this is a chance to stem the bleeding.
So it’s happier times for Chelsea at last: Costa returns from suspension and Ivanovic is out until the end of the month with a hamstring twang. The downside, though, is that Courtois could be missing until December.
For Villa, Ciaran Clark, Gary Gardner and Jores Okore are all out, with Adama Traore and Gabriel Agbonlahor doubtful.
Key player: Diego Costa (Chelsea)
Plenty of Chelsea players have something to prove here – Fabregas, Matic and the curiously off-colour Hazard. However, it’s striker Costa who could make the most significant mark. It’s been a month since the muscular striker was suspended for rough-housing the Arsenal defence, time he has wisely spent adding to his physical armoury just in case Premier League defences remained unsure of his brawn.
“I've been able to train with my own specific schedule to help me get better and better,” he said recently. “The sessions have been good and I've been able to benefit from being here. I've been working on what I needed to work on and I'm happy about that. Five or six weeks ago, I wasn't on top of my game, at least physically. I got injured at the end of the season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and when I came back I wasn't the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight, and that affected my game.”
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Villa 1-2 Chelsea (PL, Feb 15)
- Chelsea 3-0 Villa (PL, Sep 14)
- Villa 1-0 Chelsea (PL, Mar 14)
- Chelsea 2-1 Villa (PL, Aug 13)
- Villa 1-2 Chelsea (PL, May 13)
The international fixtures, twinned with the managerial departures of Brendan Rodgers and Advocaat, have taken some of the heat off Mourinho, though the headlines about him still carry a negative tone. This week he was handed a suspended, one-match stadium ban and a £50k fine following comments made about referee Robert Madley after the 3-1 defeat to Southampton.
The break hasn't been too kind to Sherwood either, with reports claiming that he has 'two games to save his job'. “I’d rather be in the bottom three now, with eight games gone and a new squad bedding in, than with eight games to go,” he said after the Stoke defeat. “We will be in the bottom three with eight games to go if we don’t pick up points now and that’s why the clock is ticking.”
Facts and figures
- Aston Villa have lost 4 Premier League games in a row by a one-goal margin; no side has ever done this in 5 consecutive matches.
- Chelsea have conceded at least 2 goals in 7 of their 8 Premier League games this season (the other game was a 2-0 win against Arsenal).
- Villa have not kept a Premier League clean sheet at Stamford Bridge since March 1998, conceding 30 times in their last 8 at the west London venue.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Mourinho to knuckle down and pick up a much-needed victory: 2-0.