Chelsea: Boxing Day clash represents a final test of sorts

Chelsea’s season can be looked at in a series of different stages. The Blues were hot out of the gate following their triumph in the UEFA Super Cup, as well as wins in two London derbies to open up their domestic campaign. This form continued until Thomas Tuchel’s men stumbled up against Manchester City and Juventus for their first defeats of the new campaign. They returned to form again shortly after, ultimately thrashing the Old Lady 4-0 in the return leg of the Champions League group stage tie. However, as the calendar turned into December, Chelsea’s form began to dip as it usually does. COVID-19 cases within the team—as well as injuries—have not helped this downtick in results. The Blues now sit third in the league and finished second in their UCL group.

The biggest problem plaguing the team throughout the early part of this month was the leaky defense. Tuchel’s side went on a run of six matches without a clean sheet before finally blanking Wolves at Molineux last week to put an end to the cold streak. Perhaps it was a bit unfair Chelsea did not secure a clean sheet against Everton the week before given the Toffees’ only goal came off a questionable free kick. Nevertheless, the Blues have now found their footing again at the back after earning a second consecutive clean sheet in the Carabao Cup quarterfinals against Brentford. This means that their Boxing Day clash with Aston Villa represents a final test before the rubber meets the road in January.

Chelsea’s Boxing Day bout with Aston Villa is a huge test for the defense

While Chelsea’s defense has looked much improved over the last three matches, the only real formidable attacking opponent was Brentford in the Carabao Cup. It must be said that both Everton (depleted squad) and Wolves (one of the Premier League’s worst attacks) needed to do a lot in order to put the ball into the back of the Blues’ net. Clean sheets are to be expected in this run of games. Therefore, as tempting as it is to say the defense is back to where it was pre-December struggles, it’d be ill advised to make that claim just yet.

Aston Villa will be the real litmus test. The Clarets are flying high under new manager Steven Gerrard as they look like a much more cohesive unit than the one Dean Smith fielded to begin the campaign. They have a plethora of attacking threats—even without Jack Grealish. Aston Villa gave Tuchel’s side a real scare last time out in the Carabao Cup when the hosts needed penalties to advance. Furthermore, don’t let the 3-0 scoreline from the reverse tie in the league fool you. The Clarets were a worthy opponent for Chelsea back in September as they managed more shots and shots on target at Stamford Bridge.

Why does all of this matter though? The contest represents the last true test of the Blues’ back line before a brutal January schedule. Tuchel’s men do have one more match before the new year when they host Brighton on December 29, but the Seagulls have the third-worst attacking stats in the league, only trailing Norwich City and Wolves. A team that has found the back of the net just 14 times in 16 matches isn’t exactly a challenge for the English top flight’s second-best defensive unit. Tuchel will be able to make necessary adjustments against Brighton should his side fail to keep a clean sheet on Boxing Day though.

In any case, the Aston Villa result is going to either ease the nerves of supporters or send them into a full-blown panic given the clubs Chelsea faces coming up next month. January was always going to be the most difficult month on the calendar and that’s only been made worse by two games against Tottenham in the Carabao Cup semifinal. The Blues’ title hopes hang in the balance heading into 2022. They face Liverpool, Tottenham (EFL Cup), Chesterfield (FA Cup), Tottenham (EFL Cup), Manchester City and Tottenham, so I don’t necessarily need to explain why the month will dictate whether or not Chelsea remains in the title race. Therefore, it’s of the utmost importance that the Blues continue to better their defense on Boxing Day.

What do you want to see from the Blues’ defense on Boxing Day? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!