Chelsea will be desperate to return to winning ways in the Premier League when they take on Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday.

The festive period in the Premier League is reaching its climactic end, and the annual Boxing Days euphoria beckons on Sunday. With Gameweek 19 of the 2021/22 season also kicking off on the day, the top-flight term reaches its midway point this weekend. And the action on Sunday will culminate with the game between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park.

Aston Villa have been on a resurgent run since Steven Gerrard took charge following the dismissal of Dean Smith. And the new manager has overseen four wins in six games to send Villa on a climb up the Premier League table. The only games the Villans have lost have been by a one-goal margin, meaning it has been all positives for the Midlands outfit in the last month and a half.

On the other hand, Chelsea’s imperious run seems to be a thing of the past. The Blues have won only two of their last six games in all competitions, with a coronavirus outbreak and an injury crisis contributing to their woes. However, Thomas Tuchel will hope that a 2-0 victory over Brentford in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals earlier this week is the platform to script a turnaround in form.

The reverse fixture, played at Stamford Bridge in September, ended in a hard-fought 3-0 win for Chelsea, with Romelu Lukaku and Mateo Kovacic on target. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Aston Villa

In his most recent press conference, Steven Gerrard has confirmed that his squad is coming off a coronavirus outbreak while suggesting enough players are available to take on Chelsea. However, there is a lack of clarity over which players are sidelined and those that are available to represent Aston Villa on Sunday.

What appears to be certain is that Marvelous Nakamba (knee), Leon Bailey (thigh) and Bertrand Traore (thigh) are unavailable for the foreseeable future. However, Morgan Sanson, Anwar El Ghazi and Keinan Davis might all be cleared to take on Chelsea. That is all as far as clarification on team news is concerned. So, the starting eleven we predict will be named based on that.

Emiliano Martinez should take his usual place in goal, with Aston Villa set to line up in a 4-3-3 formation against Chelsea. The defensive line in front of the Argentine goalkeeper will consist of Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings and Matt Targett, with Cash and Targett being full-backs, while Konsa and Mings will be the central defenders.

Up ahead in midfield, Douglas Luiz will have the onus on him to keep things tight in front of the four defenders and restrict Mason Mount’s output. Luiz will receive defensive support from John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey, with the duo also looking to break up the pitch during transitions.

Ollie Watkins will lead the line for Aston Villa against Chelsea and hope to continue his solid run of form under Gerrard. Emiliano Buendia and Ashley Young will supplement the English international, leaving Danny Ings as a backup option on the bench.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Luiz, Ramsey; Buendia, Watkins, Young

Chelsea

Much like his counterpart in the Aston Villa dugout, confusion reigns supreme as far as team news from the Chelsea camp is concerned. Thomas Tuchel has already been left aggrieved at playing without adequate cover in his squad, but things seem to be improving for the Blues’ boss.

Almost every player affected by the coronavirus outbreak will likely be available to take on Aston Villa, leaving Ben Chilwell as the only certain absentee due to his knee injury. However, question marks loom over the fitness of Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Nonetheless, each of them should feature in some capacity for Chelsea on Sunday.

Hudson-Odoi will likely be fast-tracked to the starting lineup, with Mason Mount playing alongside him as part of the twin creative force for Chelsea. The two academy graduates will play off Christian Pulisic, with the USMNT international getting another chance to impress.

Tuchel will be delighted to have Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante back at his disposal. On Sunday, Jorginho and Kovacic will likely pair up in the middle of the park, with Kante getting ample time to regain complete fitness and match sharpness.

The two central midfielders will be flanked by Reece James and Marcos Alonso, with the wing-back duo carrying a distinctive threat with their deliveries. As for the defensive unit, Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger should return to line up alongside Trevoh Chalobah at the back. Finally, Edouard Mendy will return in goal following Kepa Arrizabalaga’s heroics against Brentford.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Chalobah, Silva, Rudiger; James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso; Mount, Hudson-Odoi; Pulisic

Key Stats

  • Aston Villa can win back-to-back home league games against Chelsea for the first time in 17 years following their 2-1 triumph last season. However, that is Villa’s only victory in the past nine Premier League meetings with the Blues. Chelsea are unbeaten in all five league meetings on Boxing Day, most recently drawing 4-4 at Stamford Bridge in 2007.
  • Aston Villa have amassed 12 points in six matches under Steven Gerrard – two more than in their opening 11 Premier League games under Dean Smith.
  • Chelsea have won just twice in six Premier League fixtures (D3 L1) and are six points behind leaders Manchester City.
  • Aston Villa have won three successive Boxing Day fixtures, their longest run since five victories in a row between 1908 and 1913. On the other hand, Chelsea can lose three Boxing Day fixtures in a row for the first time since 1914. However, the Blues have not lost a Boxing Day league game outside of London since a 2-0 defeat at Notts County in 1991.
  • Ollie Watkins has scored three goals and assisted one in six Premier League appearances under Steven Gerrard.

Player to Watch

Mason Mount

Embed from Getty Images

It is no coincidence that Chelsea’s faltering fortunes have coincided with Mason Mount’s dropping form. The English international has not been in full flow since overcoming a dental infection, and Thomas Tuchel will be keen on having his talisman back in peak touch against Aston Villa.

The Carabao Cup fixture against Brentford gave Mount ample time to get a breather, and it will be interesting to see if he is fit and firing on Sunday. If the young playmaker regains sharpness, the game versus Aston Villa should be a breeze for Chelsea. Otherwise, the Villans will make another ‘Big Six’ side work hard to earn their points.

Prediction

Aston Villa 0-1 Chelsea

It is no secret that Chelsea’s form has not been the best lately. The west Londoners are in danger of going three Premier League games without a win for the first time under Thomas Tuchel. On top of that, the Blues have dropped seven points from winning positions in their last eight Premier League games.

However, Aston Villa have lost all five games this season versus teams in the top five of the table. Nonetheless, Steven Gerrard’s influence on the team has been evident, and the hosts will make it an evenly-contested affair. In the end, though, Chelsea should have just about enough quality to clinch all three points by grabbing a 1-0 win to leave Villa fans heartbroken.

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