Chelsea will take on Aston Villa in the final of the Asia Cup in Hong Kong this Saturday, after both sides won their subsequent semi-finals, against Kitchee and Blackburn respectively, on Wednesday. Our 4-0 win over the Hong Kong champions, courtesy of a Frank Lampard penalty, another own goal (our 3rd or 4th in four games depending whether you count Bosingwa’s v Thailand) and goals from Drogba and Sturridge, was pleasing on the eye and showed further progress, our second 4-0 win in a row and our fifth successive clean sheet of the pre-season programme.
This will be our first Asia Cup final since we won the inaugural trophy in the summer of 2003, in what could be described as Roman Abramovich’s first “trophy,” just after he bought the club. To call that a trophy though would lead to the belief that we are going for our third trophy in a matter of days this weekend, after John Terry lifted “silverware” following the Malaysia XI and Thailand All-Stars victories.
We also defeated a fellow Premier League side after defeating the hosts (Malaysia went down 4-1 on that occasion) that year, when we beat Newcastle on penalties after a dour goalless draw, the main recollection being Jermaine Jenas’s scuffed penalty which sealed our victory. Looking at our most recent results against the Midlanders, it’s fairly likely that this year’s final could indeed go straight to penalties after a draw over 90 minutes. Both last season’s games finished all square, a 0-0 deadlock away and a thrilling action-packed 3-3 draw at home, although we did defeat Villa 7-1 at the Bridge towards the end of the 2009/10 double winning season. The atmosphere and conditions at the superb Hong Kong National Stadium on Saturday will however be a far cry from Stamford Bridge or Villa Park.
Villa’s summer has centred on the uproar of their appointment of new manager Alex McLeish, the man who has relegated their most fierce rivals Birmingham twice. His start to live at the helm has not been helped by the departures of both Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, to Man United and Liverpool respectively, albeit for quite substantial fees. The Villa faithful, who taunt us about their European Cup win many moons ago, will be desperate to see that money pumped back into the transfer kitty. Their only signing of the summer so far has been the shrewd purchase of goalkeeper Shay Given for £3.5m from Man City, who will replace Tottenham-bound Brad Friedel. There is talk that Charles N’Zogbia will arrive from Wigan for a reported £10m in the next few days, whilst Nigel Reo-Coker, Robert Pires, John Carew, Moustapha Salifou and Isaiah Osbourne have all also left Villa Park, having been released.
Villa are unbeaten so far this summer, after wins over Walsall and Blackburn, but do not look as sharp and fluid as us yet having not played as many games. They will be looking to improve upon their 9th place finish under Gerard Houllier this season, after languishing near the bottom for spells last time out.
While Aston VilLa seemed to use a fairly rigid 4-4-2 against Blackburn, it will be interesting to see which formation Chelsea line up with for this encounter. Andre switched from the previously ever-present 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 formation last time out, with Lampard and Zhirkov holding and allowing Malouda, Kalou and Drogba freedom up front.
Asia Cup rules, which only allow you to make seven substitutes, meant that Ferreira, Ashley Cole, Kalou and Benayoun, who was fantastic and won Sky Sport’s man of the match award, despite failing in an overhead kick attempt, played the full 90 minutes for the first time in pre-season. These four are likely to be rested or at least benched. Club stalwarts Terry and Lampard were the only two to start both the Thailand and Kitchee games, so it’s also questionable whether they’ll start once more, whilst unused subs Bosingwa, Van Aanholt and Anelka will probably play a big part. Andre still seems to be giving players as equal minutes as possible, with no real signs of his favoured XI coming to the fore as yet.
There are still no signs of any departures, neither on loan or permanent. In times of arrivals while the Modric talk has quietened somewhat, Pastore is apparently ready to choose his future between us and the heavily funded PSG. We have also been linked with a move for Adam Johnson, as we try to bring in more English blood to our squad to appease UEFA’s new legislation.
The game will kick-off at 1.30pm U.K. time and be screened live on Sky Sports, following the Blackburn v Kitchee third place play off.
This is our final game of the Asia tour, and our penultimate pre-season clash before we take on Rangers in Glasgow on the 6th August. Its then all systems go as the season kicks off proper on the 14th August with our trip to the potteries to face Stoke.