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Wednesday 20:00 – Chelsea v Villarreal
BT Sport 1
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Villarreal’s historic Europa League final win over Manchester United in May was one of the feel-good stories of the 2020/21 campaign, but it is difficult to see Unai Emery’s side kicking on this campaign. In truth, Villarreal are quite limited and benefited from United’s failure to seize the initiative in Gdansk and from Arsenal being Arsenal in the semi-finals.
That is to take nothing away from a decent side that fully deserved their moment in the sun, but it is difficult to see them causing this formidable Chelsea side too many problems on Wednesday night.
Chelsea’s form has been pretty much impeccable since Thomas Tuchel took over in January, turning what was a porous defence into the most watertight backline in the league. Tuchel seems to have found a winning formula in Europe to match that of Unai Emery, who has won a record four Europa League titles.
The German manager has qualified for two Champions League finals in succession with different clubs, losing narrowly to Bayern Munich in 2020 before taking Chelsea to Champions League glory in May. He can help Chelsea secure their second European trophy in three months with a victory in Belfast.
Not conceding goals was a hallmark for both Chelsea and Villarreal’s success last season, but both sides appear uncharacteristically leaky in pre-season as they gradually reintegrate international players ahead of the upcoming season. It is difficult to read too much into pre-season results, but with both the Premier League and La Liga campaigns kicking off at the weekend, it’s hard to see Wednesday’s game playing out as anything more than a glorified friendly.
Both Tuchel and Emery will be keen to avoid any risks ahead of their league openers at the weekend and neither should care too much about the outcome. So, both sides’ pre-season results may tell a story about how Wednesday’s game is going to pan out.
For all their defensive solidity in the second half of last season, Chelsea have conceded four goals in their three pre-season friendlies, failing to keep a clean sheet in any of their three games.
Tuchel has naturally experimented with his starting XIs and will likely revert to a strong back-five against Villarreal, but it’s difficult to see The Blues rising to any sort of intensity when they have bigger fish to fry at the weekend. Villarreal, meanwhile, conceded just four goals in nine Europa League knockout matches, but have conceded 12 goals in friendlies over the summer.
They will be without key centre-half Pau Torres on Wednesday night after he completed his Olympics campaign with Spain at the weekend and will struggle to keep Chelsea out in what should be a high-scoring encounter.
Kai Havertz endured an admittedly difficult start to life in the Premier League as he struggled to adjust to playing in a new country and contracting Covid. However, the German youngster undoubtedly came into his own as the season progressed and was one of Chelsea’s shining lights during the last two months of the season.
His goal in the Champions League final against Manchester City capped off a fine run of form, while he enjoyed a decent Euro 2020 campaign, if not a spectacular one.
He has started two friendlies since returning to Chelsea from his summer holidays, scoring in the win over Arsenal, and will almost certainly start in Wednesday’s Super Cup. Havertz has an opportunity to hit the ground running this season and should seize it with both hands as soon as possible.
Hakim Ziyech is another player who endured a difficult start to life at Stamford Bridge last season, but he undeniably oozes class and now has a chance to get off on the right foot this term. Given that Chelsea possess so much talent in wide areas, he will need to.
However, Tuchel has started Ziyech in all three pre-season friendlies this summer and will likely turn to the Moroccan winger on Wednesday. Ziyech recently bagged two goals in a 2-2 draw with Tottenham and should be full of confidence going into the game in Windsor Park and could get himself on the scoresheet again.
Chelsea To Win
Over 2.5 goals
Kai Havertz To Score Anytime
Hakim Ziyech To Score Anytime
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