Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview the visit of Aston Villa, with team news, opposition analysis and other talking points brought into focus…
Chelsea’s second successive 2pm Sunday start brings Aston Villa to Stamford Bridge for the sixth Premier League fixture of the season. The Blues will be aiming to sweep away memories of the last home game, an unfortunate defeat by Nottingham Forest.
Both teams have been frustrated by the goalframe this season, especially the Blues. Enzo Fernandez (twice), Nicolas Jackson and Raheem Sterling have all seen the ball rebound to safety from their shots, and will hope the breaks go in Chelsea’s favour this weekend.
SHOTS AGAINST WOODWORK
3 Sheffield United
3 West Ham
2 Aston Villa
Villa won six of their first eight away league games under head coach Unai Emery, including a 2-0 in this fixture (their first clean sheet at the Bridge since March 1998). Since then, though, they have won only once in seven attempts on the road, losing four times.
Chelsea have claimed nine victories from the past 12 top-flight meetings with the Villans. With the injury list easing, and a Carabao Cup tie against Premier League opposition looming on Wednesday, Poch will want to see his team’s attacking qualities kicking into gear from the off against opponents who were in action on Thursday evening.
Left-back Marc Cucurella and winger Noni Madueke could be ready for selection this weekend, but plenty of others remain unavailable. Pochettino revealed on Friday Armando Broja could make his comeback from injury, while Moises Caicedo will be checked on the day to see if he can feature.
No Premier League player has found the same team-mate with a through-ball more often than Enzo has Nicolas Jackson this season (three), and the Argentinean has created 11 chances overall so far.
After two purposeful cameos, attacking midfielder Cole Palmer could be in line for his first start in royal blue as Mauricio Pochettino looks to end a run of two games without scoring.
As fluently as Chelsea have played the ball out from back to front this season, there are movements and understandings that only come with time and confidence. More intensity and accuracy in the final third would make the system click, especially against a packed defence such as Villa are likely to offer.
The Blues’ final-third statistics are a mixture of good and bad. Only Arsenal have spent more time in the opposition’s defensive third than Chelsea’s 35 per cent, and only Tottenham, Man City and Brighton have attempted more strikes on goal overall. Yet the west Londoners’ goals tally of five ranks 13th, and our ratio of goals per shot on target is just 0.22 (around one in five), the 16th lowest in the division.
We have also created the fifth-most expected goals this season (10.3) but have the second worst record for completing those great chances. It all suggests calmness and quality to beat the keeper are what’s really lacking.
More positively, with just five conceded the Blues’ solid defence has proved the fourth most watertight in the league, only bettered by three of the current top four: Arsenal, Liverpool (both four) and Man City (three). Similarly, danger is being stifled at source with only Arsenal (46) and City (31) conceding more shots on their goal than Chelsea’s 55.
Opposition scout – Aston Villa
Emery’s team flew back on Thursday after their early evening opener against Legia Warsaw in the Europa League, the club’s first European excursion since August 2010. With Sunday at the Bridge in mind, the experienced Spaniard made five changes to his starting line-up.
Domestically he has overseen a volatile set of results, with zero draws and no single-goal margin of victory either way.
Key man up front Ollie Watkins has yet to open his league account this season, but is a menace to centre-backs with his work-rate and physical presence. Philippe Coutinho departed on loan during the international break, but pacy Moussa Diaby has partnered Watkins effectively in Emery’s various formations, and Colombian forward Jhon Duran scored the third goal since his summer arrival during the engagingly end-to-end loss at Legia.
Centre-back Pau Torres is very comfortable on the ball when not pressed and against Palace at the weekend made more successful passes (117) than any Villa player in the Premier League since records began in 2003. Emi Martinez dominates his box (vital in the absence of defender Tyrone Mings) and generally passes well from the back as his coach demands.
However, they have conceded twice as many goals as Chelsea this campaign.
Villa may set up defensively as they did at Newcastle and Liverpool. They packed the space around their area but looked stretched when pressed. On both occasions hesitancy and lapses of judgment handed the hosts goals.
The forward raids of Matty Cash and fellow full-back Lucas Digne add vital out-ball width to Villa’s attack, but they may be pinned back more than they’d like again at the Bridge.
Emi Buendia, Diego Carlos, Tim Iroegbunam and Mings are unavailable, while Jacob Ramsey, a midfield regular last season, returned to action from the bench in Poland.
Chelsea vs Villa – the history
Last season’s April Fools’ Day defeat was Aston Villa’s first win at Stamford Bridge since New Year’s Eve 2011, a 3-1 loss sandwiched, astonishingly, between 7-1 and 8-0 thrashings (plus a 3-3 draw).
The first of those came in March 2010 as Carlo Ancelotti’s title chasers were kicking into gear, and featured a four-goal haul for Frank Lampard (who a few years later broke the Blues’ goalscoring record at Villa Park). A 7-0 against Stoke and 8-0 clincher at home to Wigan followed in a 103-goal season.
The Villans’ pre-Christmas roasting in 2012 was a record-breaker, with seven different players chipping in: Lampard (inevitably), plus Eden Hazard, Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, Oscar, Fernando Torres and Ramires (two).
Chelsea’s most recent win against the second-city side was a 3-0 in September 2021. Romelu Lukaku scored two fine goals for the Champions of Europe – his first brace in royal blue – and Mateo Kovacic punished Tyrone Mings’ error, though Edou Mendy had to be at his best too.
The Thursday/Sunday effect
This is one of those rare matches moved to a 2pm Sunday kick-off because one of the clubs is involved in a European competition, and it isn’t Chelsea.
The Villans would have touched down in the early hours of Friday morning after their Europa Conference League defeat in Warsaw. They will have to acclimatise to the same limited recovery between fixtures five more times before Christmas.
Someone who knows all about the accumulated fatigue from Thursday-Sunday games is Mauricio Pochettino. Back in 2015/16 he was sure it affected his Spurs side’s league performance.
‘The Europa League is not an easy competition,’ he noted. ‘You have the opportunity to stay closer to the top four if you only have to focus on the Premier League and the cups.’
In fact, Sky Sports worked out that English teams playing Thursday nights in Europe saw their Premier League finishing position slip by an average of 2.4 places. Chelsea will hope that research plays out this season: in the same Thursday night club as Villa are Brighton, Liverpool and West Ham.
Champions League matters
Next week brings the 65th anniversary of Chelsea winning 3-1 at Frem of Copenhagen on 28 Sep 1958. Its significance is that it was the club’s first competitive match in a European competition, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Our long and glorious connection with European football makes it all the more tortuous to watch others in UEFA midweek action.
While we are already invited to participate in summer 2025’s revamped FIFA Club World Cup, qualifying for a continental competition this term is still a priority. And it’s worth remembering that with the 2024/25 Champions League adopting a 36-team round robin format, it’s possible a fifth-place finish would secure a place among Europe’s expanded elite.
That fifth slot will be on the table only if the English clubs’ performances put the Premier League in the top two for UEFA coefficients this season. That’s a feat achieved in six of the previous seven campaigns.
Mental health drop-in
Chelsea Supporters’ Trust's ‘Over The Line’, a mental health hub in the Tea Bar at Stamford Bridge, backed by Chelsea FC and the Chelsea Foundation, is in operation before this match.
Trained, qualified counsellors from Hammersmith and Fulham/Ealing and Hounslow Mind will offer confidential advice and support on mental ill-health issues such as depression, anxiety, grief, stress, sleeplessness, addiction and OCD. All are welcome.