Think all the way back to that horrible day, which ruined Christmas for many Villa fans and tore the heart out of already deflated fans last season. It was not the best Christmas present that we received on the 23rd of December 2012, but it sure was a wake-up call for Paul Lambert and Aston Villa.
When Torres scored Chelsea’s first goal in the third minute, you knew you were in for a tough day – and what a day it proved to be. In my opinion, it was one of our lowest points last season and I couldn’t bear to watch my beloved Villa take such a battering, in what turned out to be our biggest ever defeat.
Eight months on and I can say that I am much more confident going into tonight’s clash with Chelsea than I was the last time we went to The Bridge, the reason for this confidence being that we have learnt our lesson regarding playing the big teams and here are my reasons as to how we have done so.
Firstly, we no longer let big teams bully us around the park as we saw against Arsenal on Saturday. Last season we took 1 point out of a possible 30 (versus top 5 opposition) and going into the Chelsea game we have already taken 3 from a possible 3. I feel that this is something that Lambert has addressed with the players pre-season, emphasising that we have to start picking up points against the “Fab 5” and stand up in order to be counted.
As we all saw from the Arsenal game, Villa showed much more hunger than the opposition when it came to winning the ball back through tackling hard and with a lot of conviction. We looked like a side that wanted to win the game by pressing high up the pitch and looking to nick the ball so that we could mount an attack immediately and put the Gunners under pressure.
Secondly, I feel that Paul Lambert is doing his best to reshape the defence and make us a more solid side that won’t concede goals cheaply like we did last season, particularly against Chelsea. Jores Okore has been brought into the side having snubbed Chelsea himself and he could be the answer to many Villa fans’ prayers when it comes to keeping clean sheets.
We have a great goalkeeper in Guzan who will be key if we want to keep more clean sheets this season – but he can’t do it all by himself. With Nathan Baker out injured, I expect either Clark or Okore to start tonight at CB, with Clark being the obvious choice due to Okore’s lack of playing time this season.
I felt that Clark was superb when he came on early for Baker against Arsenal and looked like the old Ciaran who we all said was the next big thing at centre back. He could be a key figurehead for us this season if he continues to perform well; only time will tell.
Lastly, our players have matured significantly since December of last season, with our side really kicking on from February onwards and continuing to impress at the start of this campaign. Players such as Lowton, Westwood, Delph, Agbonlahor, Weimann and of course Benteke have started to show their true qualities and I expect that all of these players will be key if we are to pick up any points against Chelsea tonight.
If we press high like we did against Arsenal we will frustrate Chelsea and their fans will start to become agitated. We can’t afford to give them time on the ball as they will punish us with the quality of the players they have. If we can somehow put in a similar performance to the one on Saturday then we could pick up a cheeky point.
My only fear is if we concede early and don’t respond immediately then our heads could drop, which is something we don’t want during the early stages of the season. Let’s get behind the Villa boys tonight and hope for another majestic performance by Lambert’s men!
What are your predictions for tonight’s game? Comment below.