Chelsea (0), Aston Villa (1) – A lucky win? No, a win as planned.

Sunday, September 24

Last weeks come from behind victory against Crystal Palace that extended our winning streak to 10, was, for us Villa fans, euphoric.  So, how to respond to a victory at Stamford Bridge with a shutout?  It says a lot about the parlous state of this Chelsea team that “anticlimactic” was the preponderant feeling.  Even Unai Emery had trouble looking happy.  It was evident that he was again unsettled in his post-game interview, similar to last week’s.

Certainly, he would have been disappointed at the early jitters that led to our Villans almost gifting a scoring opportunity to Mudryk that Konsa covered at the 3rd minute; and for Luiz to be caught in possession just outside the box leading to a free shot by Caicedo two minutes later.

He was also at a loss to explain why, playing against 10-men Chelsea with 40 minutes to play, our Villans struggled to score and then hold Chelsea from equalizing.

Though unsettled, he congratulated the effort of his players and the Villa away fans for outperforming the London faithful and went on to give credit to Ollie Watkins for his persistence that led to his goal.

What he did not do was take any credit for himself, including his team selection.  There were those who were calling for Durán to start over Watkins and suggesting that Zaniolo had yet to prove himself.  There were also those who questioned Torres’s selection at center-back.

Once again, Emery stayed true to himself.  Personally, I would have selected Ramsey over Zaniolo for defensive strengthening on Villa’s left side.  Still, the Italian did enough to keep Gusto preoccupied by his defensive duties to limit his support to his team’s offense.  In fact, the stress of dealing with the irrepressible Nicolò may have contributed to the youngster’s rash tackle that got him red-carded.

Then, as soon as we Villans took the lead, Emery immediately made the switch (Ramsey and Bailey for McGinn and Zaniolo) which could have saved the win for his team when the fleet-footed Jacob prevented Disasi getting his shot on-target with a timely tackle.

Emery must also be applauded for waiting late in the game to “freshen up his offense”.  He evidently still believed that our best chance to score was with Watkins and Diaby combining upfront.  In fact, it was their joint-effort that resulted in Ollie’s goal with fully 72-minutes already gone in the game with little to suggest that our Villans had a goal in them.

It was a perfect counterattack that came with Chelsea pressing to get the lead for themselves.  Chelsea only had two men back to cover Watkins and Diaby when Gallagher led the charge into our penalty area and pulled the ball back from the goal line toward the penalty spot for a teammate to get onto.  Only, it was John McGinn who was there, and our “canny Scot” concocted a devilish clearance, the curving and spinning kind.

John knew exactly what he was doing because when Thiago Silva brushed past Diaby to get to the ball, his failure to instantly control gave our silky Frenchman the chance to nick the ball away and start racing clear, fast enough that he broke the Brazilian’s grasp of his jersey.  Meanwhile, Watkins sped ahead to his right taking Colwill, Silva’s center back partner, with him.

Diaby chose the right moment to pass to Ollie, and with the perfect weight and direction.  Against most center backs, Watkins is able to round them and shoot on goal.  However, Chelsea’s recently acquired England youth international tracked back stride for stride for 30 plus yards and, when Ollie shot, extended his foot, and blocked the shot.  That was when Watkins showed why he is special.  He immediately chased down the deflection toward the goal line and, from the tightest of angles shot again with Sanchez covering the near post.

There was still a lot to do!  Colwill was within inches of blocking the second shot, and Ollie had no margin for error to squeeze between the near and far posts and through the goalie.  However, Sanchez’s size (6’5” and 187 lbs) and athleticism that makes it so difficult to beat him when he can dive are useless when the ball is arrowed to either side, or between, his legs.  Those limbs could not move when the ball zipped between his pins – nutmegged. 

Still, the angle was so acute that the ball hit the inside of the far post before finally entering the net.  Diaby’s reaction was a combination of delight and shock – how did Ollie conjure that?

See for yourself: Watkins Goal from many angles.

Ollie had broken his duck.  He had scored in the Premier League for his first time this season in the 6th contest, three of them wins and, this, a very important goal.  That will take a lot of pressure off him and make it likely that more goals will follow.

So, what happened in the game after Villa’s stuttering start?  The first sign that our Villans would play up to their potential was in the 18th minute.  Kamara gained possession in the center of the park and laced a cross-field pass to Digne who was level with the Chelsea penalty area.  Lucas quickly fed inside to Zaniolo who tried a first-time cross into the goal area.  Instead, the cross hit Gallagher and went for a corner. Luiz took that and it was cleared, but only as far as Digne who hit a scintillating volley from well outside the box that looked like it was dipping under the crossbar, until Santos made an acrobatic save.

That was better from our Villans, but the Blues showed they also had come to play.  The very talented Mudryk made a great pass to Jackson who beat the offside trap to go one-on-one with Martinez.  Emi came well out and cut the angle and the young forward, probably anxious, rushed his shot to the near post only for Emi to guide it wide.

Jackson broke through again, but we defended well, and he turned and tried to pick out Fernández but Cash, recovering, was able to head back to his goalie.  That was in the 26th minute and Chelsea were holding most of the possession but not penetrating until the 35th minute when Gusto found Fernández in scoring range only for the Argentinian to shoot weakly and his fellow Argentinian clutched it thankfully.

Soon after Kamara was able to nick the ball in midfield and feed Watkins whose progress was immediately stopped by Caicedo bringing him down.  Luiz’s freekick from scoring range was deflected wide.

Then McGinn’s corner was intentionally long to Kamara who cushioned a header to Zaniolo.  The Italian swung every ounce of his body into a volley and looked amazed that Sánchez was able to dive and deflect the shot over the bar.

Then Chelsea put the ball in the net, but Disasi’s header from a cross by Gusto was negated by an offside call.  That was in the 44th minute and would have done wonders for a team having trouble winning at home.

Instead, the second half was just as frustrating for the home team who seemed to be running out of ideas.  When Zaniolo held the ball at the touchline for Digne to run onto, Gusto recklessly tackled Digne and initially received a yellow card.  With Lucas down receiving attention for studs sliding into his ankle, the VAR official suggested that referee Jarred Gillett review the on-field monitor.  After review, the referee replaced the yellow with a red card.  Chelsea was down to 10-men in the 56th minute.

Both teams responded predicably with Chelsea bringing on Chilwell for Mudryk and Villa starting to increase their pressure, smelling a win potential.  Still, that created immediate opportunities for Chelsea.  Caicedo found Jackson one-on-one with Konsa but Ezri easily eased him away from goal while Cash and Luiz took shots on goal but there were too many blue shirts in the way.

Then, it was Chelsea’s turn to press and with Gallagher leading the charge, Disasi and Chilwell moved up and Thiago Silva saw a chance to gain possession in Villa’s half only to fail to control.  In less than 20 seconds, Villa scored on the break thanks to the brilliance of Diaby and Watkins.  Chelsea 0, Aston Villa 1 in the 73rd minute.

As often happens, immediately after scoring a goal, our Villans appeared to relax defensively letting Chilwell get into the penalty area one-on-one with Emi.  The England fullback appeared uncomfortable in the striker role and, lacking support, he went for power, but Emi had closed down the angle and he comfortably beat the ball away.

Then Cole Palmer (on for Fernández) threaded a perfect through-ball for Disasi to run onto from the right but as he entered the penalty box, Ramsey snuffed out the danger but ended up rolling in pain from the shooter stomping on his leg. That was in the 77th minute.

Then Ramsey showed his offensive skills, cutting in from the left to shape a curler with his right foot that seemed destined to find the inside of Sanchez’s left post only for the keeper to extend his significant frame and push the ball out for a corner.  That was in the 83rd minute and time was running out, but not the clock.

With 11 extra injury minutes announced, Chelsea players gained life and Disasi worked an opening on the right for Cole Palmer to find Emi’s far right corner, but Konza was positioned and deftly slid a foot in the way to block.

With only seconds left, Sterling tried to shield the ball to gain a throw-in only for the hustling Ramsey to insert a foot and deflect the ball off the frustrated England star.  Throw-in to Villa and the final whistle blew.

For Villa, a win they knew was there for the taking.  For Chelsea, another day of despair.

Chelsea: Sánchez, Gusto, Disasi, Silva, Colwill, Caicedo (Broja 79′), Gallagher, Sterling, Fernández (Palmer 68′), Mudryk (Chilwell 61′), Jackson (Ugochukwu 68′).

Unused Subs: Bergström, Cucurella, Petrovic, Maatsen, Washington.

Aston Villa: Martínez, Cash, Konsa, Torres, Digne, Kamara (Dendoncker 90′), Luiz, McGinn (Ramsey 75′), Diaby (Tielemans 81′), Zaniolo (Bailey 75′), Watkins (Durán 91′).

Unused Subs: Olsen, Chambers, Lenglet, Kellyman.

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