Apart from Digne’s and Konsa’s absences, there are no changes to the side, suggesting the same tactics as last week. A bit harsh on Buendia, I think, but you understand not changing a winning side, and this approach isn’t leaving room for him if Philippe Coutinho is going to start. Which he is. Whether he can be more influential this week, we’ll be waiting to see. The Ings-Watkins experiment will continue, but the hybrid 4-3-3/4-4-2 is maybe not the worst idea at the moment.
Today’s trick is how Villa respond to the quick turn and the absence of wingers. Young will be playing left back in place of Matt Targett, and El Ghazi will be on the bench.
So up top, it’s Watkins, Ramsey and Buendia, and a reprise of McGinn, Luiz and Nakamba in the middle.
Steven Gerrard takes charge of his first away match with Villa, looking to follow up on last week’s 2-0 victory over visiting Brighton to open his tenure. A win today would make Gerrard the second Villa manger to win his first two games, John Gregory being the first.
In the end, an excellent performance and Villa were perhaps unlucky not to win in regular time. For all the changes, absences, and youth, the team seemed to know what they were doing, and the mentality was really good. I expected more timidity and hesitation. It wasn’t there, or if it was, not for long. The set-up looks good.
No one knows how Villa will approach the match. If it were me, I’d probably lean toward playing this one in two phases, perhaps by starting 4-5-1, trying to blunt Chelsea, then look to get more attacking in the second. But that’s me.
The question is whether Smith will want to go all in for grabbing the first, or keep his powder dry, go for 0-0 as long as possible, and then throw on more firepower? Not at all sure he’ll want to start out with a combination that’s barely played together against such a strong side, however much he might want to see them all together.