The most awaited return of Chelsea football sprang into action as the Blues faced a hefty and dramatic Sunday afternoon in Villa Park. Chelsea lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with the uplifting return of Loftus-Cheek in the starting eleven. Loftus-Cheek mainly flanked the left hand side of the front line often drifting into midfield, but was mostly quiet due to the compactive lines of Villa’s defense. Chelsea was heading into this game with much promise as United dropped points against Spurs who only picked up a point last Friday night. The Blues have now furthered the gap to five points between Manchester United and themselves with the victory against Aston Villa, which gives the West London side much more hope for European football in next season’s campaign.
What transpired in the first 45
The first half went well for Lampard’s side as they pushed Villa back from the get-go and tried to use the wide areas to create openings. The quick change of play from the Blues forced Villa to be narrow and deal with Chelsea’s long balls in the the corners of their defense. Chelsea were patient on the ball trying to find pockets of space between the lines, but Villa did an adequate job denying the Blues time on the ball whenever it was in their box. Aston’s main source of attack was the long outlet ball to Keinan Davis (as expected) and theytried to catch Chelsea sleeping on the counter. Our backline did well in neutralizing any attack from happening. The rustiness of our players was shown instantly as Chelsea gave away the ball countless of times in the final third wasting valuable chances, but this was to be expected. The Blues first attack on goal was from Mason Mount who took a turn to his left foot from just outside the box and caught Villa’s keeper Ørland Nyland by surprise. The Norwegian keeper was able react fast enough to make an impressive one handed save and deny the young Englishman from scoring. As the Blues pushed forward to attack, N’golo Kante stayed back in a lone defensive role in front of the backline with Kovačić ahead of him trying to linkup the attack. This was the first time Lampard has used Kanté in a lone DM role and has normally played the frenchman in a double pivot or in a midfield three. This specific tactic was to protect Chelsea on the counter as they looked to hurt Villa up the field.
Chelsea tried to cross in balls from the right hand side to Olivier Giroud or Loftus-Cheek, but any cross in the ball was quickly dispelled by the Villa defenders. The Chelsea captain, Azpilicueta, showed some rustiness on both sides of the pitch as he was caught out on a play in our own half when Conor Hourihane managed to get past him in the first half. Luckily no danger derived from that attack but signified how Villa could hurt Chelsea with any opportunity that was given to them. Chelsea’s lack of awareness ultimately cost them a goal late in the first half right before the break to give Villa the lead. Villa won a free kick and played it short to find Douglas Luiz on the right hand corner of our box. He delivered an interesting ball to the far post where El-Ghazi deflected a shot onto Kepa. Kortney Hauson was there on the second chance rebound and buried it past with authority past Rudiger who made an attempted last ditch save with his body. To the dismay of the Blues who were the better team before the goal, we were 1-0 down just like that, and Villa sat back even deeper wasting any time in the process.
2nd Half summary
Chelsea didn’t waste any time and went at Villa but were once again faltering in the final third. Loftus-Cheek couldn’t get on the ball as much as he was often pushed high surrounded by Villa players. Kovačić was also surprisingly poor giving the ball away in the final third and not being as effective on the ball. Lampard was quick to make changes in the second half and substituted off Mateo and Ruben for Barkley and Pulisic in the 55th minute. Pulisic made an immediate impact with is pace and dynamism attacking the left wing channels. Barkley was also effective making the forward pass to the frontline whenever he got the ball. In the 60th minute Villa sat back deep in their own third and allowed Chelsea defenders time on the ball. Christensen quickly found an open Azpilicueta on the right wing who then delivered a fruitful cross that floated beautifully to the newly and fresh Pulisic in the far post. The ball was a tough one to handle but Pulisic convincingly blasted it into the top of the net with his left-foot to give the Blues the equalizer they’ve been searching for. After Villa gave the ball shortly after the goal, Chelsea were quick to attack once again and a quick interplay between Mount and Giroud got them in a promising spot just outside the box. Mount relayed a pass to Azpilicueta who was drifting on the left and then proceeded to cutback a ball to Giroud. Olivier impressively turned to his weaker right foot and thumped a tricky bouncing shot to put the blues up 2-1. In a matter of minutes, Chelsea was able to score two goals and after being down 1-0 shortly before the 60th minute.
The tempo of the game changed as Villa, who were on the back foot, changed their tactics and started to press higher up the field. This came to Chelsea’s advantage as it opened up gaps behind the Villa’s defense and gave the blues much more room to work with. Dean Smith’s side still looked threatening in the air and provided the blues danger every time the ball was inside our own half. Aston made a couple changes as well substituting off Josh Mcginn for Spanish international Jota. He tried to trouble Marcos Alonso down our left hand side of defense and came close to scoring after a Christensen misread almost gave Villa their second goal. Olivier Giroud came off in the 80th minute for Tammy Abraham to give fresh legs in the front line as Villa were now pressing higher and higher against our backlines. Aston Villa’s main creator Jack Grealish was much more active in the latter parts of the second half drawing countless fouls for the homeside. This was a worrying factor for Lampard as silly fouls gave Villa the opportunity to hurt us on set pieces, a department Chelsea have struggled all season long. Lampard made one final change in the 90th minute taking off Willian for Reece James to revert to a back three, putting Azpilicueta as the right centre-back and Reece as a right wing back. Reece also showed signs of rustiness giving the ball a couple times throughout the match. Grealish’s on-the ball skills also tested N’golo Kante and our backline several times as he was able to pick up fouls in our own half. This happened all the way to the last minute as the Birmingham side tried to rally back into the game but in the end Chelsea were able to hold off any Villa retaliation.
Chelsea now head back to London with an important victory and valuable three points in their bag. This puts them ahead of Manchester United by 5 points and also puts them 2 points closer to third place, Leicester City, who drew against Watford this past Saturday. All of our top four rivals managed to drop points this weekend putting Chelsea in a good spot to cement top four. Their next match fixture is against the defending champions, Manchester City, who we host this upcoming Thursday at the Bridge. In our last game against them,we performed well but individual mistakes cost us the win late in the match. We will need to be on our A-game to get a result and finish the season strong.