Aston Villa v Chelsea: Faltering Blues can be opposed

Aston Villa entertain Chelsea in one of the standout Boxing Day showdowns from the Premier League. Mark O'Haire previews the Villa Park encounter.

Aston Villa impessing under Gerrard

Steven Gerrard has made the second-best start of a new Aston Villa manager in the Premier League era after taking 12 points from his opening six league fixtures (W4-D0-L2). And the Liverpool legend has promised to "keep pushing and challenging these players... to become the best version of themselves" as the Villans strive to continue progressing up the table.

Villa have produced resilient displays in defeats to runaway league leaders Manchester City and Liverpool, and impressed when swatting aside Norwich, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Brighton since Dean Smith's departure. Since his arrival in the hot-seat, Gerrard's group rank sixth for both Expected Points (xP) per-game and Expected Goals (xG) ratio.

Following last Saturday's postponement, there's hope the Aston Villa chief will be able to welcome back Emi Buendia and Ashley Young from injury. However, Leon Bailey, Marvelous Nakamba and Bertrand Traore remain sidelined, whilst Keinan Davis, Morgan Sanson, Anwar El Ghazi and Jed Steer have been unavailable due to COVID-19 and will require late checks.

Chelsea continue to falter

COVID-19-hit Chelsea slipped further behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League title race as they were held to a goalless draw at Wolves last Sunday. The Blues had a request for the fixture to be postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak rejected on the morning of the match with manager Thomas Tuchel "angry" with the decision.

Consequently, Chelsea named just four outfield players on the bench at Molineux. The first XI was still strong enough to be competitive but they struggled to create as they were held to a second successive draw. The Blues were second-best in the in a tight tussle from the Black Country, with Christian Pulisic coming closest to breaking the deadlock for the guest.

Jorginho, Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kai Havertz and the injured Andreas Christensen were all absent from the squad, and Tuchel was unwilling to include under-23 players because they train in a separate bubble. The result leaves Chelsea six points adrift of the table-toppers coming into the Christmas period.

Blues too short to support

Aston Villa enjoyed a rare success over Chelsea on the final day of the 2020/21 campaign here at Villa Park - the Villans' only triumph in nine recent head-to-head encounters against the Blues (W1-D1-L7). The capital club ran out cushy 3-0 winners when the duo crossed swords back in September and have taken top honours here in five of their last seven visits.

Aston Villa 5.80 have won the non-penalty Expected Goals (npxG) battle in all four of their victories under Steven Gerrard, only narrowly losing the count at home to Man City. The hosts have managed to score in all eight of their Villa Park encounters and produced a creditable display at Anfield to suggest they're capable of producing a competitive effort.

Chelsea 1.70 have stumbled since the start of November, posting W3-D4-L1 in the Premier League to lose their position at the top of the table. The Blues have conceded in six of those eight outings, whilst also toiling in the final-third, with Thomas Tuchel's team hit hard with injuries and illness. The visitors have W2-D3-L2 against top-eight teams this season.

Overs interesting

Steven Gerrard was keen to address Aston Villa's leaky defence after taking over. Five goals conceded in six- including three against arguably the two best attacking teams on the planet - suggest improvements have been made. And that's backed up by the underlying numbers - only four teams have conceded a lower xG per-game since Gerrard arrived.

With Aston Villa repairing their rearguard, Chelsea's famed back-five have faltered. Last weekend marked only the Blues' third shutout in 10 fixtures across all competitions, with Thomas Tuchel's team shipping two goals or more in three of their most recent five matches. It makes Over 2.5 Goals an interesting underdog at 2.06 on Boxing Day.

But with contrasting goal trends surrounding the two sides, the more appealing play is to oppose the away team. We can lay Chelsea at 1.70 on the Exchange, enjoying a level-stakes profit should Aston Villa avoid defeat.

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