Aston Villa v Chelsea: Dean Smith hoping defensive improvement can stifle returning Tammy Abraham

Keeping only their fifth clean sheet of the season was undoubtedly the biggest positive of Villa’s Premier League return.

Tammy Abraham during his time at Villa (Photo: Will Kilpatrick)
Tammy Abraham during his time at Villa (Photo: Will Kilpatrick)

But the improved defensive discipline Dean Smith hopes will become common from his team during the run-in will now be tested by a player who needs no introduction.

Tammy Abraham scored 26 goals in helping Villa win promotion last season, 20 of which came at Villa Park, the venue where on Sunday he will lead the line for Chelsea.

The 22-year-old has enjoyed a breakthrough Premier League campaign, scoring since returning to his parent club last summer.

Smith said: “Tammy has done what I expected him to do. He’s a top player and a top person. I think he is the real deal, everything about him.

“We loved having him here and playing a part in his development and you know he’ll always have a strong affinity for Aston Villa.

“We’re really pleased to see how he’s done but we’re hopeful that our defenders get the upper hand against him tomorrow.”

No Villa-Chelsea preview would be complete without mention of John Terry and Smith admitted his assistant took particular pleasure in the improved defensive structure displayed in Wednesday’s 0-0 draw against Sheffield United.

Halting the flow of goals against was Villa’s primary focus during the league’s three-month break. Prior to midweek, they had failed to keep a clean sheet in nine league matches and conceded 11 times in the four games prior to shutdown.

“We’ve all taken a little bit of stick and rightly so with the goals we’ve conceded – coaches and players,” said Smith. “Our defensive organisation hasn’t been what we’ve been working on the training ground and we’ve managed over the last 12 to 14 weeks to put that right.

“We’ve got to do it now against some real top drawer players in Chelsea. My centre-halves know too well how good Tammy can be so we’ve got to be even better now on Sunday.”

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith (right) and assistant head coach John Terry during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge

Smith and his coaching staff have tried to remove “grey areas” for the defence while also making sure every member of the team plays their part.

“It is not just the defenders,” he added. “It is a team game, you score from defenders sometimes playing a ball through but you have to defend as a team as well.

“There are certain things we have worked on with the back four but it is more the group chats we have been having.

“There are lots of different things we have shown them but certainly the video work during the lockdown, allowing them to talk about it freely and what they have seen and what they think we can do.

“We are guiding them in that direction and the players have picked up an awful lot. We have taken away grey areas and made it very black and white.”

Villa missed the chance to move out of the relegation zone against the Blades and their mood by kick-off tomorrow might well be influenced by the results of their rivals near the foot of the table today.

Smith hopes the experience of having already played a competitive match behind closed doors can be an advantage.

He said: “It could be evened out, the fact we have had a game and our next two or three days has been about recovery, whereas Chelsea have just been preparing for this game.

“They will have been able to watch our game and prepare different things on how they approach it.

“But what can be advantageous is the fact we have played a game in those conditions, a Premier League game at Villa Park.

“Great credit to everyone behind the scenes because it certainly felt like we were playing a home game when we walked out with the flags and the crowd faces on the screens as well.

“The only thing missing was crowd noise and the atmosphere. We have spoken to the players about mentality and how they can drive each other and I think we got a little bit of that from them.”

Frederic Guilbert (knee) could feature after returning to training yesterday. Bjorn Engels (Achilles) remains out.

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