Chelsea will square off against Villarreal in the traditional curtain-raiser of European football for the 2021/22 season, the UEFA Super Cup.
As the excitement and the anticipation builds up ahead of the new football season, the first continental trophy will be up for grabs on Wednesday night as Champions League winners Chelsea lock horns with Europa League winners Villarreal in the UEFA Super Cup in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Chelsea had a remarkable second half of the last season that saw them finish in the top four of the Premier League after looking done and dusted, while they also made it to the finals of the FA Cup and went on to lift the big one – the UEFA Champions League. Thomas Tuchel, appointed in January to replace the sacked Frank Lampard, did a tremendous job in a short period of time.
Now set to begin his first full season in charge of the Blues, the German tactician will be gunning to kickstart the campaign with another trophy. Chelsea have had a few pre-season clashes building up to the game, as they defeated Bournemouth and Arsenal 2-1 before being held to a 2-2 draw by Tottenham. Nonetheless, things will be much different when they take the field at Windsor Park.
As for Villarreal, the La Liga outfit, in their first season under Unai Emery, went on to lift the Europa League trophy, or as Tuchel called it, “the Unai Emery trophy”, beating Manchester United in a tense penalty shootout in the finals. The Yellow Submarine showcased formidable strength and doggedness to achieve success, and more of the same will be seen this midweek.
Preparations for the Super Cup, though, have not been ideal with players recovering from injuries and/or coronavirus, which has meant that Villarreal have failed to win any of the six friendlies they have played, most recently being held to a 2-2 draw by Leeds United. None of it will matter, however, on Wednesday night as Emery & co. look to emerge out on top against the favourites.
Ahead of an exciting contest that will pit two former Paris Saint-Germain managers against each other, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both sets of teams.
Team News & Tactics
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 10, 2021
Given that a lot of Chelsea players had been involved in the international tournaments over the summer, their varying return times to pre-season training has meant that preparations have not been at optimum level. Nonetheless, Thomas Tuchel has named a formidable 24-man squad for the trip to Belfast that sees several regulars return while a few new faces also get a chance.
There is a place for new signing Marcus Bettinelli and youngster Trevoh Chalobah, who has made quite the impression in the pre-season fixtures. The likes of Reece Jame, Mason Mount, Emerson, Jorginho, who went to the finals of the UEFA Euro 2020, all feature as well.
Tuchel will line his team up in the familiar 3-4-2-1 formation, with Edouard Mendy lining up in goal. Antonio Rudiger should be a shoo-in in the three-man defensive unit, while Kurt Zouma could also get the nod, despite being linked with an exit. Cesar Azpilicueta could feature ahead of Thiago Silva as the final centre-back, although, Chalobah and Andreas Christensen are also options.
Callum Hudson-Odoi should line up as the right wing-back, considering James has only recently joined the camp while Marcos Alonso could get the nod on the left. The duo’s forward forays will be a key component of Chelsea’s game on Wednesday. N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic, meanwhile, ought to form the midfield partnership, with Jorginho still not match fit after an extended break.
Hakim Ziyech has looked in fine touch in pre-season and should get the nod as one of the two attacking midfielders, with Kai Havertz likely to start as well, ahead of Christian Pulisic. Upfront, Timo Werner will be given another shot at redemption ahead of Tammy Abraham, whose future remains uncertain.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Azpilicueta, Zouma, Rudiger; Hudson-Odoi, Kante, Kovacic, Alonso; Ziyech, Havertz; Werner
As iterated earlier, Villarreal’s pre-season has been disrupted by injuries and coronavirus, which, at one point, had left them without as many as 12 players out. There has been some respite for manager Unai Emery in the lead-up to the game, however, with the likes of Etienne Capoue and Vicente Iborra returning to training on Monday.
Dani Parejo, Francis Coquelin, Geronimo Rulli, and Samuel Chukwueze all remain out with injuries. New signing Boulaye Dia is expected to be available, however, along with striker Paco Alcacer after the duo had been sidelined for a brief spell.
Here's what @UnaiEmery_ had to say in his press conference:
— Villarreal CF English (@VillarrealCFen) August 10, 2021
Emery will set his team up in a compact 4-4-2 formation, with Villarreal preferring to sit back and frustrate Chelsea before trying to pick them apart on the counter. In the absence of Rulli, Sergio Asenjo will man the goal, shielded by Raul Albiol and Pau Torres, who will fly back just in time for the game after his involvement at the Tokyo Olympics.
Juan Foyth, who has been used in midfield in some pre-season games, should line up at right-back while Alfonso Pedraza, a target for Chelsea, should slot in on the left. They will likely stay tight to the two centre-backs, although they will have the licence to push forward when Villarreal are in possession.
Given the lack of options, Manu Trigueros and Manu Morlanes are likely to form the central midfield pairing flanked by the lively duo of Moi Gomez and Yeremi Pino who will pose a threat from the wide areas. At the top, Gerard Moreno, who recently penned a new contract, should be a certain starter, with Fer Nino likely to partner him. Alcacer and Dia will be options from the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Asenjo; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza; Gomez, Morlanes, Trigueros, Pino; Moreno, Nino
- Chelsea have only lost two of their last 12 games against Spanish opposition in European competitions (W5 D5). They were unbeaten in their six encounters against teams from Spain during the triumphant 2020/21 Champions League (W4 D2).
- Villarreal are unbeaten in their last 15 games in European competition (W12 D3), with the most recent three coming against English opponents in the last season’s Europa League.
- Chelsea will be appearing in the UEFA Super Cup for the fifth time in 2021 – since winning their first one in 1998 vs Real Madrid, the Blues have failed to lift the trophy in each of their last three attempts.
- Edouard Mendy kept nine clean sheets for Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League 2020/21 – the most ever by a goalkeeper in their debut season in the competition.
- Gerard Moreno was directly involved in 10 goals in 12 games for Villarreal in the 2020/21 UEFA Europa League (7G, 3A).
Player to Watch
— Reactionary Blues ⭐️⭐️ (@RB_CFC) August 10, 2021
While it was not all doom and gloom, Timo Werner’s debut season wasn’t exactly a success story either. The German international, arriving with the reputation of being an ace goalscorer, struggled to put chances away, missing several gilt-edged opportunities over the course of the campaign.
So much so that Chelsea have been forced to go big on another striker this summer, with Romelu Lukaku on the verge of signing in a club-record deal from Inter Milan. With the Belgian international set to arrive, Werner’s place in the side is under huge threat. And, he will need to step up and make a match-winning contribution on Wednesday if he is to stay relevant in the plans of manager Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea 1-0 Villarreal
Given that neither team has had a full-fledged pre-season with all of their players involved, this one will be tricky to call. Nonetheless, Villarreal have been bogged down by injuries to several players in several positions heading into the game. And Chelsea, despite not being able to field all their top players, still boast of so much quality in their ranks that they should be able to see this one through.
It is unlikely to be a game where there will be a lot of goals considering Villarreal’s rigid defence and Chelsea’s attack that hasn’t always fired on all cylinders. The Hard Tackle, thus, predicts the Blues to win it by the odd goal and pick up another trophy under Tuchel.