This preview may quickly lose relevance, due to the Covid-19 issues in both camps, but Aston Villa are set to host Chelsea on Boxing Day. It is a huge game for the visitors after a disappointing few weeks in the Premier League. Their margin for error is decreasing on a weekly basis, as they are now six points behind Manchester City. Thomas Tuchel won’t want his team to throw in the towel, but he will admit that it will be difficult to usurp the current champions. For the home side, there have been improvements under Steven Gerrard. A win over one of the current top three would do wonders for confidence at Villa Park.
It has been a strong opening period for Gerrard at Villa, as they have won four of the six matches he has taken charge of. The two defeats came against the other two sides in the top three, but the performances in those matches were promising. They only lost by one goal to both Manchester City and Liverpool. A similar showing against a Chelsea side short of confidence could bring a headline-making result. The current Covid issues within the squad have added complications ahead of Boxing Day, but there will still be confidence they can get something from the game.
Chelsea have won just one of their last four Premier League matches, which has seen them fall to third place. The pace at the top of the division is relentless and even a short period of poor form can have a major impact on a team’s title challenge. The pleasing thing for Tuchel is that the Blues have now kept clean sheets in their last two matches in all competitions, which suggests that a corner is being turned. They must win on Boxing Day if they are to remain in the title race heading into 2022.
Since Steven Gerrard was appointed, Aston Villa have conceded just five goals in six Premier League matches.
During their last league match against Wolves, Chelsea only managed a single shot on target.
It has been a good start to life under Gerrard for Ollie Watkins. After the signing of Danny Ings during the summer, there were some doubts about where Watkins would play. However, it seems clear that he is still a prominent player for the team and should be played centrally. The forward has the ability to score goals and create chances for team-mates, which means he can play on his own or alongside Ings. In Villa’s last match, he grabbed a goal and an assist against Norwich, showing the qualities he does offer. Although, the assist was more to do with the excellence of Jacob Ramsey, rather than a defence splitting ball from Watkins. This season, he has contributed five goals and one assist. It is expected that his numbers will improve over the coming months, due to the better performances shown by the team under Gerrard. After having a taste of international football last season, the 25-year-old will be hungry to return to the England fold. A good performance against one of the top three would enhance his claim.
This is shaping up to be a breakout season for Mason Mount. Regular watchers of Chelsea will confirm that he is now their most important player in attack, due to his consistency and improvement in the final third. This season, he has contributed seven goals and four assists in just 15 matches. The England international is averaging a goal involvement every 88.8 minutes. His performances have gone under the radar somewhat, but he has been one of the best players in the division so far. Tuchel will now realise that the midfielder needs to be given a prominent role in the attack, as he can impact matches in several different ways. Aston Villa have been much improved at the back under Gerrard. Chelsea will need Mount to perform well if they are to break their winless run in the league.
Marvelous Nakamba will be missing for months after picking up a knee injury. Bertrand Traore and Leon Bailey will be missing until the New Year, but Emi Buendia could be passed fit to start. There are some Covid-19 cases in the squad and the players impacted by this could be missing on Boxing Day.
Romelu Lukaku, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen are all doubts for the match on Boxing Day. It is expected that Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell and Hakim Ziyech won’t be available.
It has been a difficult week for both teams, with Covid-19 issues at both clubs. Villa are in the better form, but it is unknown how the outbreak has affected their squad. For Chelsea, there have been improvements over the last two matches. Their defence looks stronger when N’Golo Kante starts in midfield. This will be a tight game and it is one the visitors need to win.
Aston Villa 0-1 Chelsea