Projected lineup for Aston Villa’s cup tie with Chelsea

Aston Villa return to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening for a Carabao Cup third-round tie with European champions Chelsea.

Villa manager Dean Smith deployed a 3-5-2 formation in his side’s 3-0 Premier League loss at The Bridge less than two weeks ago, but he’s likely to move to a back-four for the rematch.

Smith said of his decision to play in a 3-5-2 on September 11:

“We played that way last week because I felt that Chelsea would cause us problems. We negated their system, but we made mistakes and didn’t take our chances.”

Villa used the same set-up in a 3-0 win at home to Everton on Saturday evening, and although it appears Smith has found a preferred formation going forward, squad rotation may force the boss to revert to the more traditional 4-3-3.

Squad rotation will see Aston Villa switch to a back-four at Chelsea on Wednesday

Three in the back has provided Villa with enough coverage in defense and midfield to deploy a high press and attack on the counter. They were dangerous in the first half of the loss at Chelsea and tore Everton to shreds in the second half on Saturday.

But the favored 3-5-2 has kept Leon Bailey, Bertrand Traore, Emi Buendia, Anwar El Ghazi, and Morgan Sanson out of the starting XI. A formation change would allow that group to play meaningful minutes and rest two of the three favored center backs.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – MAY 23: Bertrand Traore of Aston Villa runs with the ball whilst under pressure from Mateo Kovacic of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park on May 23, 2021 in Birmingham, England. A limited number of fans will be allowed into Premier League stadiums as Coronavirus restrictions begin to ease in the UK. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Expect left-footed Kourtney Hause to start in central defense with Axel Tuanzebe or Ezri Konsa as his partner. Ashley Young could return to the starting line-up as a left back with Matty Cash rounding out the back-four on the right side. Jed Steer will start in goal.

Sanson has yet to feature for the first team this season, so expect him to play centrally with Marvelous Nakamba, tasked with breaking up plays in the middle of the park. Nakamba has played well in matches against top sides in the past, offering Smith hard-nosed ball-winning ability in key areas.

If Smith elects to go with a 4-3-3, Jacob or Aaron Ramsey would likely round out the midfield trio. If it’s a 4-2-3-1, look for Buendia to play in the No. 10 role with Traore on his right and Bailey or El Ghazi on his left.

Bailey has not yet started for Villa, but after picking up a slight knock in the Everton match, Smith may choose to rest the Jamaican for Saturday’s run-in at Manchester United. If that’s the case, El Ghazi gets the nod.

Danny Ings has started every Premier League match for Villa this season; Watkins has not. Smith is likely to start the latter in hopes that he continues to find both his fitness and goal-scoring touch.

Chelsea, too, will rotate their squad. Matches are coming thick and fast for Thomas Tuchel’s side, which is vying on three fronts currently. Prioritizing Premier League and Champions League supremacy, a young Chelsea side will play on Wednesday.

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