In the end it fell to that perennial thorn in Villa’s side, Branislav Ivanovic, to settle the issue. The Serbian was immense on the right side of the field, proving yet again why he’s considered the best right-back in the Premier League. But it’s his imperious goal stats against Aston Villa that should have had Paul Lambert worried. Ivanovic has now scored 5 goals in the last 10 games between Chelsea and Aston Villa, showing the kind of form that has often eluded Chelsea’s strikers against the Villans.
Chelsea didn’t let that ominous moment ruin their flow or determination, even if Mourinho and the rest of the bench looked resigned to yet another puzzling loss of points to a team that is, on paper, rather inferior to the Blues. Taking the ball on the volley, and unleashing a ferocious shot off of his left boot, Ivanovic punished some scrappy defending by Aston Villa at the back. Lambert’s men were in with a chance after Jores Okore headed in a much needed equalizer, after his side had gone 659 minutes without scoring.
With Manchester City trailing 1-0 at The Etihad to a surging Hull side, Chelsea were running the risk of conceding a golden opportunity to put even more distance between them and the defending champions. At the Etihad, City were always a threat and capable of pulling off a late equalizer just as they eventually did. City’s last minute reversal of fortunes was not enough to rein in Chelsea as Mourinho’s men extended their lead on the top of the table to 7 points.
Mourinho showed once again why he’s considered one of the most astute tacticians in the game, with a timely substitution of the tiring Drogba with the irrepressible Remy. It was also a statement in the vast gulf in the talent between the two sides, when Mourinho could afford to bring on one of the most promising talents in the Premier League while Lambert’s decision to bench Benteke in favor of Agbonlahor was borne out of necessity, more than any real mark of strategy. Bringing Benteke on eventually di little to swing the balance in Villa’s favor, as Chelsea never looked like letting go of their hard fought lead.
It’s unclear how much of a threat Chelsea perceived Aston Villa would pose to them, because Mourinho opted for the more experienced Cahill over Zouma, while also choosing not to risk Cesc Fabregas in the game. Didier Drogba started the game, and Chelsea only brought on the young Remy as a replacement after the hour mark and after conceding the equalizer. Chelsea’s Matic and Ramires, while an interesting combination of calmness and energy, are not the same as a Matic and Fabregas pairing. It showed in the possession as Aston Villa enjoyed just a bit more time on the ball than Chelsea did, and it could have mattered if Lambert’s men had only found the venom up front needed to test Chelsea’s back four.
As expected Juan Cuadrado did feature in the game, but only came on a late substitute for a displeased-looking Willian. Cuadrado showed flashes of ability with his weaving runs at the Villa defense, but didn’t have enough time to settle in the game and couldn’t pull any spectacular tricks from his bag. Another late substitute was John Obi Mikel, who did himself no favors with a series of lost possessions and misplaced passes. Mikel’s errors proved not to be costly, but that was more a testament to Aston Villa’s lack of impetus than anything else.
Eden Hazard remains Chelsea’s best hope for a goal in the continued absence of Diego Costa, with a beautiful shot off his right foot in the early minutes of the game to give Chelsea the all important first goal within the first 20 minutes: considering the Blues haven’t dropped points in an away game that they’ve scored first and within the first twenty minutes throughout this season.
Chelsea were content to sit back and absorb Villa’s pressure, betting that the hosts would not find the final injection of pace to trouble Chelsea’s back line. In the end, Chelsea walked away with all 3 points and a victory that might prove critical if they are to win the league this season.