Aston Villa (2) vs Chelsea (2) – Our Second Half Blues are blown away by the Gunners’ win over Spurs

Saturday, April 27, 20:00 – Villa Park

Referee: Craig Pawson

Well, I did wonder which Chelsea team would turn up Saturday evening at Villa Park.  They were the worst kind of visitors, showing little respect for our success this season and almost put us to the sword.  So, what happened to the Ollie and Martinez versus Cole Palmer show?

It never happened!  It was probably partly because of Villa’s early goal that our Villans allowed the Blues to dominate possession for the first half.  Watkins and Martinez became spectators in the game with few touches for Ollie and very few saves for Emi.  Then, the loss of Tielemans with less than 30 minutes gone also disrupted our midfield operation.

Of course, the biggest factor on the game was the withdrawal of Martinez at halftime due to muscle problems.  Without that injury, it is likely that Chelsea would have repeated their showing against Arsenal where they also had most of the possession but came away with no goals and a 5-0 loss just four days prior.

At the end of the first half, this seemed like the prognosis our Villans needed, a win and a warm-up to our Europa Conference League semi-final first-leg fixture against Olympiakos this Thursday.  With Olsen replacing Martinez and Tielemans’ missing, the team lost its way after the break.

So, here’s all you need to know!  Within the first couple of minutes from the kickoff, we saw signs of what to expect.  A hopeful ball down the middle from Bailey to Watkins was calmly cut off by the 39-year-old Thiago Silva while a similar foray down our Villa left saw Torres cut across the path of Jackson forcing the Chelsea striker to bundle the elegant Spaniard to the ground, and a freekick was awarded to our Villans.

Then, when Caicedo carried into our Villans half and earned a freekick, the imposing figure of Badiashile was the target, but McGinn pushed him enough knock him off-balance for his first time shot.  The shot went high and wide of our goal.

Then, from the goal kick Torres passed to Digne on the left touchline and the French international ran through the high press of Madueke and into the Chelsea half before pulling the ball back to the surprisingly effective Morgan Rogers.  Rogers immediately swung a 40-yard pass across the field for Bailey on the right wing.

Our Jamaican international demonstrated his excellent skill, trapping and running at Marc Cucurella, the Blues’ left wing-back.  The Spanish international held his ground and resisted the temptation of making a dangerous tackle in the penalty area.  Bailey showed his Emery-influenced patience and reversed field and found Tielemans, well-positioned just outside the corner of the box. 

Again, Chelsea had a solid box in place, so our Belgian international changed directions, feeding Torres behind and to his left.  Torres carried the ball toward the penalty area and pulled Madueke and Chalobah to him while Digne broke from the touchline to the goal line.  In response, the Blues backline, Chalobah, Silva, Badiashile, and Cucurella were all drawn towards their goal for a cross into the 6-yard box.

Digne, instead, pulled the cross back to John McGinn alone, near the penalty spot.  It came with speed and McGinn’s attempt to hit a first-first time shot was embarrassingly bad.  In fact, the ball went sideways, rebounded onto Watkins’ foot, then Cucurella’s shin before ending its journey in the corner of the Blues net with goalie, Petrovic, frozen to his line.  Aston Villa 1, Chelsea 0 in the 4th minute! Thanks to an own goal to Cucurella

Our Villans had yet to have their first shot and they were in the lead!  While the finish was fortunate, the build up was first rate with Bailey, Tielemans, Torres, and Digne all contributing.  A couple of minutes later, the same group was at it again with a one-touch pass by Tielemans releasing Digne down the touchline.  Digne saw that Rogers was heading to the goal line and a deft chip was on its way.  Rogers returned, in-kind, with a pull-back that froze Silva.  Digne set himself for a first-time volley with his right foot that bulged the side-netting, but just to the left of the near post.

This was only the 8th minute, and our Villans were looking like they were going to add to their lead.  From the goal kick, our Villans pressed and when Luiz jumped to a loose ball ahead of Gallagher, the English international caught Douglas’s ankle at a cost of a free kick that came to nothing.

Finally, Chelsea found their rhythm and played some attractive possession without looking like they would ever penetrate our Villans’ low-block defense.  Eventually, Rogers jumped on a sloppy pass and immediately fed Watkins up the left wing.  A neat touch allowed Ollie to slip by Silva and drag the Chelsea defense in a race to their penalty area. 

Despite being out-manned, Watkins found McGinn in the box and, when John could not get a clear shot on goal, he passed back to his striker.  Ollie had time to set and shoot first-time, but his balance was off and Petrovic gathered easily.

Shortly after, Jackson broke the Villa offside trap to run onto a pass from Caicedo and calmly lofted a shot into our Villans net only for VAR to judge he was offside.  That was in the 16th minute.

Chelsea continued to dominate possession but were unable to break through the backline with Bailey and Rogers helping our fullbacks and Tielemans and Luiz sliding back and forth just ahead of Konsa and Torres.  Eventually, with some frustration, Caicedo took a swing from well outside the box and Martinez gathered comfortably.

That all changed when Tielemans went down with an apparent groin pull in the 27th minute.  Diaby came on to replace the Belgian.  The team adjusted on-the-fly with Rogers becoming the link to Watkins (where McGinn had started) while Diaby replaced Bailey to help Cash on the right while Bailey switched over to replace Rogers on the left to help Digne.

With the players still adjusting McGinn lacked Tielemans’ fluidity and found himself almost colliding with Luiz while Diaby looked uncomfortable with his defensive responsibilities.  That left an opening for Jackson to dart into the penalty and pick-up a pass from Caicedo.  Fortunately, Cash was alive to the danger and immediately stepped across the striker and allowed Martinez to race off his line and dive on the loose ball.  That was in the 29th minute.

Immediately, the organization was changed with Diaby replacing Rogers as the link to Watkins and Bailey going back to his starting position, helping our fullbacks, but with one change.  Bailey was allowed (or took it upon himself) to press Badiashile.  The French international’s rushed pass to Mudryk was intercepted by Cash who immediately fed Diaby.  With his progress blocked, Moussa passed back to McGinn who espied Bailey racing down the right wing on a break. 

If the pass had been with his right foot, Bailey might have had a break on goal, but it was McGinn’s left foot and that necessitated Leon controlling the ball to keep it in play, allowing Badiashile enough time to recover and foul Bailey.  McGinn’s freekick was ineffective and easily cleared.

Villa tried to put more pressure on Chelsea’s build-up without much success and that left them vulnerable.  With Badiashile and Caicedo pushing up, our Villans left Cucurella open on the wing and the Spaniard stood-up a teasing cross between Torres and Digne that Jackson rose to head with all the time in the world.  The Senegalese international tried to be perfect, aiming for just inside the right post but the header rebounded off that post and back into play with Martinez a spectator.  That was in the 34th minute.

That close-call seemed to spark our Villans into life.  They started to invite pressure.  McGinn carried through center before passing to Digne on the left, Digne waited on Madueke until the last second before passing back to Torres.  Pau carried towards Palmer, then our backline general curved a tantalizing pass across field to Cash that Matty gathered and sprayed a pass with the outside his foot to Diaby in lots of room on the right wing.

Moussa carried into the inside right channel with Bailey to his right and Cash, continuing his run, to his left dragging three defenders towards the goal with them.  That left room for Rogers at the edge of the area and Diaby made the pass to the precocious 21-year-old.  Credit to Rogers for recognising that Gallagher and Caicedo were close, and Silva and Badiashile already turned to face him.

Instead, Rogers immediately slipped a pass outside to Watkins who had a clear path to goal.  Ollie set and hit a fierce shot with his left foot, but Petrovic had the angle covered and batted the shot away from 12 yards.

After that, the play opened up and both teams showed more desire to score before the break.  Palmer had a good chance to threaten from a freekick level with the penalty area, but the usual reliable player failed to get his cross over the first defender and Silva was forced to foul to prevent our Villans getting a fast break. 

Martinez used the freekick to arrow a pass to Cash racing down the right wing.  Our Polish international controlled the pass at the halfway line and saw that Bailey was bisecting Badiashile and Cucurella heading towards the penalty area.  The two Blues managed to interrupt Leon’s progress and prevent Diaby from gaining possession but could not prevent the indefatigable Cash from seizing the loose ball and zipping a pass over to Rogers who was arriving at the penalty area in the inside left channel.

It was as if Morgan had been in this position for years in the Premier League.  He controlled the ball and, when Chalobah slid over to block, zinged a shot between the fullback’s legs and just inside the desperately diving goalie’s right post.  Aston Villa 2, Chelsea 0 in the 42nd minute!

For the balance of the half our Villans looked comfortable, and the Blues failed to mount anything of note.  As for the Palmer factor, the acquisition from Manchester City had shown none of the threat that had gained him 19 Premier League goals.  That all added up to our fans being confident of a Bournemouth game second half performance and not a Brentford game debacle. 

That was until they saw Robin Olsen come on during the break to warm-up in goal.  Chelsea must have recognized that this as a lifeline to their chances.  Martinez’s playing out from the back ability has improved considerably since Emery came and is a big factor in our Villans’ ability to control games.  Olsen, unfortunately, has nowhere near that same skill.

Consequently, from the first Villa goal kick Palmer was on the edge of the area and the whole Blues team was prepared to press.  When the ball came to Watkins, Silva nudged him enough for Ollie to lose control.  Then, when Luiz was trying to contain Caicedo in his own half, our brilliant Brazilian grabbed the shirt of the Ecuadorean and was penalised with a yellow card in the 49th minute – a huge loss of self-control that contributed to our failure to win.

Chelsea repeated their first half play with lots of possession and little to show for their efforts,though Madueke did conjure up a shot that went just a foot outside the left post.  With more curve, he likely would have scored.  Then, out of nothing, our Villans conceded an unnecessary goal.  It was the normally reliable Luiz who received a pass just outside the penalty area from Digne, but he failed to protect the ball from Gallagher.  The ball came to Madueke who, this time, made sure to stroke the shot inside the left post.  Olsen was late getting down and just missed getting his hand in the way.  Aston Villa 2, Chelsea 1 in the 62nd minute!

Our Villans then lost their composure, hanging on for the balance of the game with Rogers and Bailey picking up yellow cards for desperate tackles.  With Luiz on a yellow card, Emery took the precaution of substituting him with Iroegbunam in the 75th minute and, to shore up the defense, he brought on Carlos for Bailey at the same time.

With Iroegbunam lacking Premier League playing time, he was a little naïve when Gallagher received a pass from Madueke just outside the area.  He allowed the English international to look up and set for a left foot shot at the top lefthand corner of the net when he could have easily stepped forward.  Aston Villa 2, Chelsea 2 in the 81st minute!  This time Olsen had no chance.

Five minutes later our Villans had an excellent opportunity to win the game.  McGinn bamboozled the pressing Gallagher and fed Cash who pulled a perfect pass from the goal line, back to Watkins open at the penalty spot.  With Chalobah sliding and Madueke closing in, it had to be a first time shot.  It was, but Ollie got under it at the Holte End, and the shot went well over the bar.  Instead of being the hero and racing to his adoring fans, he pulled his jersey over his head to hide his shame.

It was that kind of game.

Fortunately, the very next day Arsenal did themselves, and our Villans, a huge favor by beating Spurs 3-2 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.  The net gain was 1 point in the race for 4th spot in the Premier League with our Villans controlling their own fate with three games to go.

Aston Villa (4, 4, 1, 1): Martínez (Olsen 45′), Cash, Konsa, Torres, Digne, Bailey (Carlos 75′), Tielemans (Diaby 27′) (Durán 83′), Luiz (Iroegbunam 75′), Rogers, McGinn, Watkins.

Unused Subs: Chambers, Lenglet, Kesler Hayden, Kellyman.

Chelsea (4, 2, 3, 1): Petrovic, Chalobah, Silva (Disasi 90′), Badiashile, Cucurella, Caicedo, Gallagher, Madueke, Palmer, Mudryk (Casadei 90′), Jackson.

Unused Subs: Bettinelli, Curd, Washington, Gilchrist, Acheampong, George, Dyer.

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