Season 2021/2022, Chelsea catch us flat-footed

Twenty-four hours before the kick-off, I felt confident forecasting that this was a game we could win.  That was based on the information available at the time suggesting our Villans would be better prepared than our visitors.

Then the pregame newsflash hit us like a sack of potatoes.  Our iconic new manager Steven Gerrard and our on-field inspiration, John McGinn, were both lost to COVID-19.  Each was indispensable and the double-whammy all but guaranteed we were going lose to the Blues.

For a while it looked as if we might escape the cudgel.  With Lukaku on the bench and not starting, Chelsea had no direct threat and were mostly trying to penetrate down the wings.  They could have sent crosses into the penalty area for the full 90 minutes and not bothered our solid backline or our goalie, Emi Martinez.

Then, against the run of play, we were gifted an own-goal when Reece-James, the Chelsea wingback made a tentative effort to block a wickedly whipped cross by Matt Targett only to miscue and leave Mendy, in goal, no chance to save.

With over an hour left in the game, this was not a time to relax, but playing with the lead is the best place to be.

The one concern, noted by commentator, Lee Dixon, was the difficulty McGinn’s replacement, Morgan Sanson, was having getting out to challenge wingback Marcus Alonso on the left.  This was stretching Matty Cash who was also trying to offer an offensive option for the claret and blues.

When Chelsea wingback linked up with Hudson-Odoi to penetrate the Villa penalty area and no support, Cash lost his nerve. He saw Odoi cut behind him to take the slide-rule pass and he made a reckless lunge that scythed the winger down. It was well to the left of the goal.  In hindsight, Cash could have allowed Konsa to deal with the limited threat of a shot from a sharp angle or a cross.  Instead, he gave Chelsea a penalty and an almost certain goal.

Five minutes after we had gained the lead Jorginho nonchalantly converted and tied the game. If either McGinn or Gerrard had been around, I have to believe that Villa’s Polish international would have exhibited better judgment.  As it was, Chelsea took control and Villa were doomed.

This was particularly noticeable after the break.  A feature of Gerrard-managed games has been the spirit our Villans have shown at the beginning of the second half.  Without the motivational former Liverpool great, our Villans exhibited zero energy and the Villa faithful started to murmur – a bad sign.

Credit to Lukaku, who came on at the break, for his excellent header to gain his side the lead and to Jorginho for clinically converting two penalties, the one gifted by Cash and one earned by Lukaku’s brilliant running that forced Konsa into conceding another spot-kick.

One benefit that might come out of Gerrard being able to watch a game without the managing responsibility, was the opportunity to focus on what to do about an ineffective Danny Ings.  The Saints pickup was almost disengaged from the game having the least touches (22) of any player on the team.  Chances are, he’ll be back on the bench if McGinn is fit, as an understudy for Watkins, not what we paid $35 million for.

A rebound against a Brentford team with lots of its own problems is in the cards, and necessary.


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