Aston Villa returned from their trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday with all three points in the bag, having beaten Chelsea through a superb finish by Ollie Watkins in the 73rd minute, 15 after Malo Gusto was sent off for a nasty challenge on Lucas Digne.
A surprising result, perhaps, at first glance, but not so much when all the factors are considered and taken into account.
No way up for Chelsea?
Having had a bad season by their usual standards last time around and with no European football to distract them now, Chelsea were expected to improve significantly and compete at the very top, and that’s without even considering the money they spent on summer reinforcements, or the appointment of someone like Mauricio Pochettino to take charge of the team. And yet, so far, they’ve managed to do even worse.
With six rounds of the campaign now gone, Chelsea sit in 14th place with no more than five points, and it can perhaps be said that they’re out of the top-four race already. They lost three of those six matches, drawing twice and beating only newly promoted Luton Town. Their only other triumph was an unexpectedly narrow one over League Two side Wimbledon in the Carabao Cup.
Game after game, Pochettino keeps talking about and praising the performance of his team, trying very hard to put the results aside. He believes he has the support of the club hierarchy in this, but sooner or later, the harsh reality of what’s happening in the Premier League table has to hit home.
There is some truth in what the Argentinian tactician is saying. Even in this game, Chelsea weren’t that bad – they created plenty of chances, several of the sort that really should’ve been goals, but for one reason or another, they weren’t. It should be said that a lot of it was down to Villa’s Emiliano Martinez, a top-class goalkeeper, who denied Nicolas Jackson and Raheem Sterling in several one-on-one situations.
It has been said many times, but Chelsea obviously lack a proper goalscorer, a player who will not let even someone like Martinez stop him from scoring, at least not from six yards or less, with no outfield opponents to interfere. A lot of money has been spent by the London club, including on Jackson with the aim of him being the man to lead their attacking line, but the problem of not taking chances remains. The home side did hit the back of the net once in this game – it was a fine header by defender Axel Disasi, but it was rightly ruled out for offside.
There’s clearly no place for Romelu Lukaku at the club. The Belgian is currently on loan at AS Roma after spending last season at Inter Milan, and it’s hard to imagine him playing a meaningful role at Stamford Bridge in the future. It may be that the return of Armando Broja from a long-term injury absence changes things, but if that doesn’t happen soon, there’s only one direction Chelsea can turn to – another significant dip into the transfer market, as soon as the January window opens.
In the meantime, their supporters can only hope the situation won’t become even more desperate.
Things can hardly be more different from Aston Villa’s point of view. They quickly got over the thrashing suffered in the opening round at Newcastle, and the triumphs against Everton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, and now Chelsea, have them in sixth place with 12 points, two less than Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in fifth and fourth, respectively. They also lost away to Liverpool, but at this point, they won’t be losing too much sleep over that.
All in all, Unai Emery has put together a fine team, capable of giving anyone a run for their money, and for anyone who’s been watching their games on a regular basis, their good results are no surprise. The fact that they can beat Chelsea in London without the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Emiliano Buendia and Tyrone Mings speaks volumes.
Interestingly enough, Watkins, their top scorer in every season since he joined the club three years ago, has just opened his account this term, but it only goes to show that this is a team which can hurt opponents from any position on the pitch. Nobody has scored more than two goals, but they have five players with that tally in their ranks, spread across every section of the squad.
Watkins’s goal at Stamford Bridge was a truly superb finish, and certainly not an easy one. It was Moussa Diaby who took advantage of a blunder by veteran Thiago Silva to pick the ball up in his own half and charge forward, before passing on to Watkins. The 27-year-old striker had Levi Colwill trying to stop him and the young Chelsea defender did well to direct him wide, and was perhaps unlucky as the initial shot rebounded back to Watkins. It was a very tight angle, but Watkins took another shot, powerful and accurate, sending it between the legs of otherwise excellent Robert Sanchez in the Chelsea goal.
The red card
The red card received by Gusto was obviously a turning point in the game. Up to that moment, Chelsea were looking reasonably good, attacking more than their opponents and creating chances. However, it was a different story once they were reduced to 10 men, and referee Jarred Gillett was arguably right in his decision to send the young right-back off.
Gusto’s challenge on Digne was truly a nasty, reckless moment from the 20-year-old Frenchman. His body completely left the ground as he flew in studs-first, and though he did get a slight touch on the ball as well, the sheer disregard for the safety of his opponent was certainly worthy of the punishment.
Gillett obviously didn’t see the incident too well as he blew the whistle and initially produced a yellow card, but after reviewing it on the pitch-side screen, he really didn’t have much choice but to upgrade his decision to a red.
With captain Reece James still out of action through injury, it will be interesting to see what choice Pochettino makes regarding the right defensive flank for the next game.
There’s no time to moan for Chelsea, or for Villa to celebrate this victory. Both teams are in action again on Wednesday in the Carabao Cup, and while Villa are deemed favourites to move past Everton in the competition, Chelsea travel to face Brighton – a daunting prospect for any team these days.
After that, Chelsea play away to Fulham and Burnley before the next international break kicks in. As for Emery’s side, they will also face Brighton, though at Villa Park in the Premier League, and then travel to Wolverhampton. However, they also have a Europa League clash set between those matches, hosting Zrinjski Mostar, and they can’t afford another slip-up after losing the opening match to Legia in Warsaw.
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