Why Aston Villa can beat Chelsea this weekend (really)
The over-zealous appreciation of Chelsea's tactical efficiency, and the idolisation of Jose Mourinho, has inevitably masked emerging signs of weakness within the Blues' squad. But the 4-2 defeat to Bradford and 5-3 pummeling at Tottenham have scratched – ever so slightly – the Special One's impenetrable armour.
There are flaws in this team. Aston Villa, as far-fetched as it may sound, could be the next team to expose them.
As highlighted by various sections of the media, Cesar Azpilicueta made a naïve and costly positional error in the build-up to Manchester City's equaliser last weekend.
This follows on from two individual blunders that led to goals against Bradford, when the left-back was caught ball-watching before Bradford's second, and was easily dribbled past for the third.
Azpilicueta's bemusing decision-making in that crucial moment last Saturday was, perhaps, an early sign of a dip in confidence. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, his next opponent – Villa's new signing Carles Gil – is on an upward swing after an impressive start in Birmingham.
Considering Villa's woeful display at the Emirates, Gil's display (6 dribbles, 3 chances created) was admirable.
The former Valencia man's dips and slaloms, coupled with his graceful technical control and dribbling speed, will certainly cause Azpilicueta plenty of problems. Chelsea have conceded 16 goals away from home, only 3 fewer than Newcastle – the team with the third-worst away defensive record in the league.
Chelsea remain overwhelming favourites for this fixture, but it's worth noting that Villa's well-organised defence had, before the Arsenal match, conceded fewer goals than any team outside the top four.
Chelsea have struggled against deep-lying defences in several games this season, and Villa are the deepest of them all (dribbled past 7.2 times per match, a league low). With Cesc Fabregas still a doubt and Diego Costa suspended, coupled with the Blues' awkward record at Villa Park, stranger things have happened...
Similarly well-organised defences that are happy to absorb pressure and nullify Chelsea's counter-attacking strategy have kept Mourinho's team quiet. Could Villa do the same?