There are six Premier League matches taking place on Wednesday, which are Liverpool v Everton in the Merseyside derby at 8:15pm, and five games at 7:30pm, which includes Chelsea v Aston Villa, which is previewed here by our very own Will Reilly.
Chelsea might be suffering from what might be called ‘First-Third Syndrome’. Each year there is always a team in the Premier League that confounds expectations in the first 12 or 14 matches of the season before other sides wake up to their style and then set themselves up to negate their strengths.
At this point we find out more about how capable that team is at prising open a locked-tight defence.
Chelsea failed this test against West Ham on Saturday, with many of the early-season eye-catchers looking a little jaded, notably Mason Mount.
To be fair, Chelsea had to play in two high-intensity matches prior to West Ham’s visit – away to Man City and away to Valencia – so they have to be afforded some sympathy.
However, sympathy alone doesn’t win you football matches and Chelsea, who will be facing their fourth game in 12 days, have to summon up energy and ingenuity from somewhere. Their ability, or otherwise, to do so, will also be a reflection also on where Frank Lampard and his management team are at in terms of their development.
Owing to a considerable number of personnel changes on the pitch at the end of last season, Villa were always going to take time to gel as a side. On the upside, though, was the fact that they have a clearly-defined way of playing under Dean Smith, one that would, it seemed fair to assume, eventually pay dividends as the players adapted to it, not least because they have a lot of good, tactically astute, players in their team.
The pearl amongst these is Jack Grealish. He’s a class act on a football pitch, possessing bundles of talent, as his goal at Man Utd on Sunday again revealed. He looks set to enjoy himself in West London on Wednesday.
It could just be that Villa are getting things together as Chelsea are coming up for air.
One thing is for sure: Chelsea can’t keep a clean sheet this season so will have to score at least twice in order to win. It could be that they need three, which may just be beyond them, particularly if leading scorer Tammy Abraham, who spent a couple of very productive seasons on loan at Villa, misses out owing to a hip injury.
Chelsea, of course, have a crucial Champions League match coming next Tuesday. Are the demands of such a schedule about to take further toll on their younger players? We are about to find out.
On the face of things, Chelsea are in good shape. Fourth in the table, with six points back to fifth-placed Spurs. However, six-successive league wins have been followed by two defeats and they have kept just three clean sheets in the league in 14 games this season. When they are good, they are very good, but when they are not, they looks short of ideas in the final third.
Christian Pulisic has scored five goals in Chelsea’s last four league games; Tammy Abraham has scored 10 goals in his eleven starts in the league for Chelsea this season.
Villa have won just one of their last five league matches, but have won three of their last seven and, in their last two games, have won 2-0 at home to Newcastle and drawn 2-2 at Man Utd. And they were only denied a home win over Liverpool by goals from Robertson (87 mins) and Mané (90 mins).
They are looking more confident now and, much as Chelsea legend John Terry, who is on the coaching staff at Villa, will be afforded the warmest of receptions by Chelsea’s fans and staff, it may have lost a bit of his heat by the time the game ends.
If Chelsea turn up looking as jaded and uncreative as they did against West Ham, a confident Villa side can make capital. If Chelsea produce the best of the form they have shown in climbing the table to fourth place, it will, of course, be a different story.
My prediction is a 2-2 draw at 16/1.
Given his ability from free-kicks, Conor Hourihane at 11/2 as an anytime scorer looks reasonably priced.