Chelsea vs Aston Villa: Five Key Battles

Juan Mata

A few weeks ago this would have been viewed as a home banker for Chelsea, but of the two sides, it is Aston Villa who are in better form, as demonstrated by their 3-1 win at Anfield last weekend.

Here is a run-down of the key battles

Gary Cahill vs Christian Benteke

Central to Villa's recent fine performances has been the form of their Belgian striker Christian Benteke. The 22 year old put Liverpool to the sword with two goals and an outrageous back heeled assist last weekend, and Chelsea will need to focus much of their defensive efforts on the striker. As Benteke is so key to Villa's style of play, if Gary Cahill can get on top of the Belgian, and cut him off from his midfield, then Paul Lambert's side will struggle to get out of their own half. However if Cahill gets too tight to Benteke, he might find himself outmanoeuvred by the strength and mobility of the Belgian, and Villa could profit as they did at Liverpool.

Juan Mata vs Ashley Westwood

Mata has been one of the stand out performers in the league this season, and has been particularly good in Chelsea's recent games. You would expect Westwood to sit in front of his defence for most of the game in an attempt to stop too much space opening up for Chelsea's dynamic front four, but he will also need to be prepared to track Mata if he drops deep to get possession. There's no doubt there are other brilliant players in Chelsea's line-up, but Mata is the key man, and Villa cannot allow him to get room to dictate the play.

Fernando Torres vs Nathan Baker

Baker is yet another impressive graduate from Villa's academy, and the 21 year old has been in superb form since coming into the side in recent weeks. Villa will likely set up with three centre backs, and Baker and company will spend as much time tracking midfield runs as looking after Fernando Torres. However the Spanish striker is showing glimpses of a resurgence under Benitez, and if he begins the match in a confident manner he will clearly be the main threat for Chelsea. On the other hand, if Torres is marshalled well in the opening half hour, his head might drop once again, and Villa will have a far easier time keeping Chelsea at bay.

Ashley Cole vs Matthew Lowton

Lowton has been an ever present for Villa this season, and his role in the side has become more expansive lately as Lambert has set up with wing backs. Ashley Cole plays in a similarly attacking capacity despite being part of a back four, and both players will be as wary of tracking each other as they are focussed on the midfielders on their flanks. If the Villa midfield can help Lowton double up on Cole, they might enjoy success down that flank, with Eden Hazard unlikely to be tracking back for 90 minutes.

Ramires vs Brett Holman

With John Obi Mikel suspended and Oriol Romeu injured, it's unclear how Benitez will decide to set up his midfield, but Ramires will likely be present alongside either of Frank Lampard and David Luiz. The Brazilian will be required to rove forward in order bolster Chelsea's attacks against Villa's defences, but he will also need to be wary of the threat of Holman. The Australian midfielder's tireless running is a crucial part of Villa's play, and Ramires will have to ensure that he tracks Holman as he breaks forward to join Benteke in the final third.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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