Chelsea Must Combat the Threat of Aston Villa's Counter Attack on Wednesday

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2013

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Christian Benteke (L) of Aston Villa in action with Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park on May 11, 2013 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

The early exchanges of any Premier League season always throw up a discussion point or two—whether it be new kits, hair cuts, signings or tactics.

In the case of Aston Villa, it's the latter, with their surprise 3-1 victory over Arsenal over the weekend making a few pundits and fans alike sit up and take notice of Paul Lambert's side.

Given their struggles last term, the impression was Arsenal had a favorable start to the 2013-14 campaign. After all, Paul Lambert's Villans had not only finished a lowly 15th in the table, but the Gunners had also had their number in four of the previous five meetings.

The result proved quite the contrary.

Another year older and this Villa team looks stronger with Christian Benteke, Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor a deadly combination on the counter.

Without over-egging things ahead of this clash between Chelsea and Aston Villa on Wednesday, it's one area Jose Mourinho's team must combat if they're to continue their manager's fine record at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho of course has never lost a Premier League game in his West London home, yet what we saw from Villa on Saturday probably set a few alarm bells ringing.

So how to combat this ferocious counter attack? Well, some Arsenal fans would suggest not including Per Mertesacker in the line-up after he was sent on a merry dance last weekend. But that's not a problem the Blues need to concern themselves with.

They do have their own vulnerabilities, however.

John Terry has never been famed for his pace and he will need to avoid being isolated at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. If he fails, the Chelsea captain faces the possibility of being brutally exposed.

In fact, we saw something along those lines at Villa Park in May when these sides last met. In that clash Terry was fortunate not to receive a red card when he fouled Benteke as the Belgian ran through toward goal.

Indeed, Benteke did find himself on the scoresheet that afternoon, putting Villa 1-0 up in the first half. This time it was Gary Cahill who was caught out by Benteke's talents and while it wasn't exactly a swashbuckling counter-attack that we saw against Arsenal, it outlines where Chelsea will need to remain vigilant.

The focus will be on the centre-backs come Wednesday, but the players Mourinho selects as his two central midfielders will need to remain disciplined. It's the space between that defensive line and the midfield, which any of Villa's attacking trio will want to exploit.

From here they can turn Chelsea's defence and as we saw with Benteke's Villa Park goal, the movement of those around him will create space for themselves or him to score, so Chelsea's midfielders will need to work hard in ensuring their bases are covered.

We saw Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic venturing forward at every given opportunity against Hull City Tigers on Sunday. It will be a different case against Villa.

Mourinho will want his defenders to support attacks, but he will be equally mindful of the threat Weimann and Agbonlahor bring with their explosive pace. As the old phrase goes, the space in behind will be their meat and drink.

Chelsea are understandably strong favorites going into Wednesday's fixture, but they write Villa off at their own peril.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes