Opposition Scouting Report: Aston Villa

Clive Mason

Chelsea defeated Aston Villa 8-0 last season but this is unlikely to be a repeat of that score line, with Paul Lambert's young side finding cohesion and form in the second half of the season.

In that fixture, the keen tactician was experimenting with a 3-5-2 that gave Chelsea's full-backs freedom down the flanks.  With no direct opponent, Cesar Azpilicueta was free to move forward unmarked and send in a superb cross for the opening goal: Fernando Torres's fine header.

However, he has since switched to a more orthodox 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation, although he has kept with roughly the same midfield trio that featured in that heavy defeat. Ashley Westwood sits the deepest and can hit clever, incisive passes, protected by the energetic pairing of Fabian Delph and Karim El Ahmadi. The latter was particularly impressive against Arsenal with his drive from midfield positions, and motored forward with power to support Aston Villa's attacks. Villa's midfield is more combative than Hull's and should cope better with the overload of playmakers into left-of-centre playmaking positions.

In this regard, Villa's right-sided centre-back is of interest, considering how Jose Mourinho instructed Torres to make runs towards the ball, as to drag away defenders and open up space in behind. The theory explains the club's exaggerated pursuit of Wayne Rooney, although the Portuguese has suggested "it is something he will work on with the current players."

Therefore, it will be intriguing to see if Ron Vlaar is dragged up-field. He already tends to try and stick tight to his man when marking, so a deliberate strategy from Demba Ba or Romelu Lukaku to try and move him out of position and thus create space in behind for the likes of Andre Schurrle and Eden Hazard might be successful.

Villa's defence also appears vulnerable in other areas, particularly with simple positional mistakes: Matthew Lowton and Nathan Baker improved as last season wore on and should start here, but left-back Joe Bennett has been replaced by new signing Antonio Luna. The former Sevilla defender impressed in his debut with a goal, but also provided fine service for Christian Benteke with a number of dangerous crosses from wide positions, frequently overlapping past Gabriel Agbonlahor. Therefore, the identity of Chelsea's right-winger is important: they must be defensively disciplined to track Luna into their own half (so a start for Victor Moses isn't improbable).

That adds an extra element to Villa's strategy - broadly speaking, they'll sit deep before breaking quickly down the flanks. Andreas Weimann and Agbonlahor track back diligently, before breaking forward quickly into the penalty box at transitions - although with Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic staying in relatively conservative positions against Hull, they might not enjoy the same sort of freedom that they did on Saturday against Arsenal.

However, there is still the all-round threat of Benteke, who soared to fame last season with an impressive 19 goals in his debut season. He offers not only an obvious physical presence, but also clever technical skills and an underappreciated ability to make clever runs towards the channels. He will look to occupy the two central defenders, and thus try and open up space between the full-back and centre-back - the zone into which Agbonlahor and Weimann time their runs.

It was this movement that caused Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny great consternation on the weekend, earning the latter a red card. There is the concern that Gary Cahill and John Terry might not cope with Villa's pace on the break.

More: Squad news, television and streaming information, community lineups and more in the match preview.
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