Thursday, October 15, 2009
ESPNsoccernet: October 16, 2:58 PM UK
ESPN Soccernet Preview: Aston Villa v Chelsea
Live on ESPN2 (US) on Saturday from 0730 EST (kick-off 0745)
Martin O'Neill's Aston Villa have been the silent runners of the Premier League's top echelon. In seventh place and with a game in hand on Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, a win here and other results going their way could lift them into the top four, the place where the Irishman is aiming at and where they seemed destined to finish last season before a late fade in fortunes.
Villa's best performances this season have come away from home with a thrilling win at Liverpool and a home draw with Manchester City that could have gone either way. They seem to raise their game for the bigger clubs and should present quite a challenge to a Chelsea team whose 2-0 despatching of Liverpool was exactly the right result and performance to follow a shock defeat at Wigan.
Carlo Ancelotti takes his team away from Stamford Bridge for the first time since that loss in Lancashire.
• Aston Villa player in focus: Gabriel Agbonlahor was granted his first England start under Fabio Capello and offered glimpses of his strengths, they being pace and a hard-work ethic. Setting up a goal for Peter Crouch belied his reputation as a player lacking in quality and forethought of a final ball. His strong running and interplay with John Carew or Emile Heskey forms the counterpoint of Villa's attack and O'Neill feels he is deserving of a place in South Africa.
• Chelsea player in focus: Didier Drogba is celebrating reaching his second World Cup finals after his goal secured a draw for Ivory Coast in Malawi. He looks on top of his destructive best and was the wrecking ball used to blow apart Liverpool in Chelsea's last outing, providing both their goals. Carlo Ancelotti looks to be one of those managers who can get the best from Drogba where the likes of Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari failed to do so.
• Key battle: John Terry v John Carew: A fit Carew possesses Drogba-like qualities, and he presents a physical threat to any centre back. However, fitness is ever an issue for the Norwegian who O'Neill clearly prefers to Emile Heskey. Terry was one of a handful of players to emerge from England's defeat in Ukraine with any credit having looked back to his best in stymieing Fernando Torres the previous week. He will be confident of dealing with the physical threat posed by Carew.
• Tactics: O'Neill employs something approaching a classic 4-4-2, with wingers Ashley Young and James Milner supporting the front two ahead of midfield workers Stilian Petrov and Steve Sidwell. Carlo Ancelotti has found the knack of playing Drogba in tandem with Nicolas Anelka, with the Frenchman now willing to go out wide. The midfield diamond with Deco looking comfortable on the left-hand side provides defensive cover in front of the back four.
• In the news: Emile Heskey seemingly opened the door on a January move away from Villa Park when stating his worries about his place in the England team. On a slow news, week the burly striker found himself on all the back pages.
• Quotes: Emile Heskey on those rumours: "I didn't say I want to quit Villa or anything like that. The manager knows what I'm like. I have spoken to him and explained the quotes. I think the manager knew anyway that certain things weren't said."
Stephen Warnock on Chelsea: "They play a diamond, so they've got Michael Essien moving out there and Nicolas Anelka and Jose Bosingwa go out there too. So I won't be getting much sleep at all the night before."
• Villa team news: Luke Young is included in the squad for the first time this season and will be battling with Carlos Cuellar and Habib Beye for a place. Gabriel Agbonlahor is set to keep his place up front after his competitive England debut against Belarus in midweek with Emile Heskey likely to be amongst the substitutes.
• Chelsea team news: Petr Cech returns from suspension so Hilario, who deputised in the 2-0 victory over Liverpool, will drop to the bench for the clash at Villa Park. Midfielder Michael Ballack has been ruled out with the ankle injury sustained on international duty with Germany.
• Probable Villa line-up: (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, Warnock, Dunne, Collins; Milner, Petrov, Sidwell, Young; Carew, Agbonlahor
• Probable Chelsea line-up: (4-4-2): Cech; Bosingwa, Terry, Alex, Ashley Cole: Deco, Essien, Lampard, Joe Cole: Anelka, Drogba.
• Soccernet prediction: Chelsea's experienced group of players will be all used to returning from international duty while Villa's collection of young bucks may not be so used to it. Villa will test Chelsea to their limits and Ancelotti may be happy to escape with his first draw of the season.