Aston Villa produced an excellent first-half against Chelsea, but come away from Stamford Bridge having lost 2-0.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
Aston Villa returned to action post-international break against the current European Champions, Chelsea. The matchday squad had changed, again, with the return of Jacob Ramsey, Ollie Watkins and John McGinn to the starting eleven. Jed Steer would start in goal in the place of the absent Emiliano Martinez, while Axel Tuanzebe would slot between Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa to form a back three.
Chelsea started strongly and piled on the pressure in the opening two minutes – winning a number of corners early on that didn’t quite come to anything of note.
Jacob Ramsey was booked in the 7th minute as he dragged back Hakim Ziyech who looked to spark a counter for Chelsea. A moment earlier, Ramsey had raced into the Chelsea box to create a chance for Villa, which resulted in a corner once Douglas Luiz’ outside-of-the-box shot deflected out.
A corner from Chelsea caused Aston Villa some problems as a headed effort deflected off Ezri Konsa and onto the bar – the ball would have likely nestled in the net otherwise.
There was a strong tempo to the game, from both sides, as each team had chances, attempts, and attacks in the opening quarter of an hour.
The first chance of the evening that fell to Romelu Lukaku, the forward took. Kovacic raced into the Aston Villa half past McGinn and Ramsey, before playing a sublime ball through to Lukaku. The forward raced past Tuanzebe, before the defender committed himself and slipped, as the forward turned and fired between the legs of the onrushing Jed Steer.
Ollie Watkins was the first player to truly test Mendy in the Chelsea net, firing towards the target in the 17th minute, with the Chelsea ‘keeper dropping low to his right to palm it wide for a corner. The resulting corner came to nothing thanks to a deft touch from Ziyech.
In the 23rd minute, Ollie Watkins came close to a Villa equaliser. John McGinn won the ball well from Saul, before playing a ball through the Chelsea defence to Watkins, who rounded Mendy and fired a shot away that was foiled by the veteran defender Thiago Silva’s chest. Watkins would come close again shortly after.
A set-piece scenario in the 32nd from a long throw ended up falling to Tyrone Mings who fired a half-volley at Mendy with his left, which the goalkeeper managed to palm into the path of Ezri Konsa, who also fired at goal. Mendy scrambled to palm that away and the ball would go out for an Aston Villa corner.
With just a few minutes remaining in the first half, Ramsey rushed into the Chelsea box before attempting an effort with his left foot – forcing Mendy into a low save to deny Jacob a goal.
Despite going in at the break behind after two minutes for added time, Aston Villa looked fired up and performed exceptionally in the first half – and should have been level if it weren’t for the exceptional goalkeeping of Chelsea’s Mendy.
Aston Villa opted not to make a change at half-time, however Chelsea’s new signing Saul would be replaced by Jorginho after the Spaniard looked to struggle against Villa’s aggressive press in the first half.
Inside the opening seconds of the second half, Aston Villa had won a corner. Tuanzebe battled for the ball, but Lukaku headed over his own bar for another corner, which came to nothing.
Chelsea, however, would score another early on. A short back pass from Tyrone Mings caught Jed Steer out, and Kovacic was able to steal the ball away and fire into the open left-hand side of the net.
Jacob Ramsey, who was enjoying a fine performance in midfield, was replaced by Leon Bailey in the 56th minute for Aston Villa.
Marcos Alonso was booked for pulling Bailey back in the 61st minute after the Jamaica international had nutmegged the Spaniard and looked to be getting away.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, Danny Ings would be replaced by Bertrand Traore, who proved to be a thorn in Chelsea’s side last season. Traore would test Mendy early on into his display and force him into a save.
For the final ten, Marvelous Nakamba replaced Douglas Luiz, as Aston Villa made their final change in the hope of getting something out of the game.
Aston Villa would huff and puff, but Chelsea’s defence remained strong to see the game out for Tuchel’s side. The gamer was put to bed in the 93rd minute as Romelu Lukaku, with his second chance of the game, scoring his second goal. The Belgian found his way to the end of a Azpilicueta pass before burying past Steer.
A strong first-half display would be doused with an early second-half goal for the hosts, and Dean Smith’s side struggled to make an impact following it – and especially so after a poor refereeing display by Stuart Atwell.