SO KON PO, HONG KONG - JULY 27: Nathan Delfouneso of Aston Villa shoots during the Asia Trophy pre-season friendly match between Aston Villa and Blackburn at Hong Kong Stadium on July 27, 2011 in So Kon Po, Hong Kong. (Photo by Raf Sanchez/Getty Images)
Who'd have thought Andre Villas-Boas would be leading his side to their first cup final within five weeks of joining the team? No, it's not as though the Asia Trophy is a real cup, but it's nice to be (so far) undefeated in the pre-season. Our reward, really, is not having to play Blackburn, whom were vanquished 1-0 in the semifinals/first round by Saturday's opponents, Aston Villa.
Yes, we're finally on an opponent that we know something about. So that's nice. Villa, of course, had something of a blip last season after seeing Martin O'Neill resign in August. They're on their fourth manager since, with Alex McLeish crossing town from arch-rivals Birmingham and attempting to institute some sort of revival despite losing Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Brad Friedel this summer.
Villa are probably a better team than they get credit for after a terrible run last season, but they're still an incomplete one. A midfield purchase (they're a much more sensible destination for Scott Parker than Chelsea are) would probably put them in solid contention for a Europa League spot, and they've done well to turn the Downing money into Shay Given and Wigan Athletic's Charles N'Zogbia, whose signing was completed on Friday.
Although we'll recognise most of the names that McLeish opts to field, guessing at a starting lineup for our own team in pre-season is difficult enough, so I won't even pretend to be able to figure out what Villa will do. Instead, some general notes:
- Gabby Agbonlahor's being used in the free role a lot. Ostensibly, Villa have been playing 4-4-2. Realistically, Darren Bent has led the line and seen Agbonlahor drop deep while the wingers cut inside and let the fullbacks sweep forward. This is strange.
- I really enjoy Barry Bannan. Watch him when he comes on. Bannan has vision, passing ability, and the ferocity you'd expect from a Scottish midget.
- Richard Dunne appears to have lost enough weight to craft Javier Pastore's body from. He might actually be back to being a good defender now!
In general, they didn't look nearly as good against Blackburn as Chelsea did against Kitchee, but that's easily explained by the quality of the opposition and the very nature of Blackburn Rovers. Anyway, that's Villa done. What has Andre Villas-Boas got to say about Chelsea?
I think our objective is to finish as equal as possible in terms of minutes played to everyone, what we will do [against Aston Villa] we will continue to do against Rangers, distributing minutes so everybody feels in shape, and reinforce the principles we have been applying to training in a game situation.
It won't be only about selection but spreading out the minutes, hopefully making the seven substitutions we are allowed, which was changed from five. It is important to give minutes to everybody before the start of the Premiership so these two last games we will have we will keep this.
-Andre Villas-Boas. Source: ChelseaFC.com
He also mentioned the possibility of going to a two-striker formation after playing with a 4-2-3-1-ish shape against FC Kitchee on Wednesday. This means, first and foremost, that Fernando Torres will get the start. This is completely unfounded (apart from that 'two striker' quote and the players available), but I also have the feeling that the Blues will play with some sort of midfield diamond, just to see whether or not it can be done.
Yes, that's McEachran at the point of the diamond. Chelsea have been focusing a lot of attention to the 18-year-old in the past couple of days, and I think they're read to give him a fairly bold assignment against Villa. Or not. I could very easily be completely wrong about just what Villas-Boas is trying to do here.
Anyway, we'll find out on Saturday. The game kicks off at 8:30 PM local, which means 1:30 PM in England, 8:30 AM on the east coast, and 5:30 AM on the west. Hope to see y'all here.