By Jonathan Parkin
With the games coming thick and fast after the Premier League restart, Villa had a chance against Chelsea to build on their goalless draw against Sheffield United four days previous. With a competitive 90 minutes under their belt, it could be argued they had some kind of advantage over their London visitors. There had also been promising signs from the Sheffield United match, with chances created, but not finished. However, it was clear that the Villans would face more stern tests from their tough remaining fixtures.
Dean Smith named an unchanged side from that which drew on Wednesday. Orjan Nyland retained his place in goal despite his error that should have cost Villa, and there was still no place on the bench for Frederic Guilbert despite the Frenchman returning to training. On the Chelsea side of the equation, Tammy Abraham wouldn’t have a starting return to Villa Park, with Olivier Giroud preferred up front. They had a great wealth of talent to call upon from the bench, with Abraham, Pulisic, Barkley and Pedro all available to come on and make an impact.
In 90 minutes, that can at best be described as pedestrian, Dean Smith’s men went down in a dismal fashion. After clinging on in the first half and snatching a goal against the run of play through Kortney Hause before the half-time whistle, many may have wondered if Villa’s luck was starting to turn.
Nevertheless, as has been the story for the Villans throughout the season, against teams from the top half, they threw it away. The lack of pressing and energy from front to back was evident, as Chelsea had crossing opportunity after crossing opportunity. It only took one to come good, and it did, as Pulisic ghosted in completely unmarked at the back post to fire home. Then Chelsea turned the screw, and capitalised on lazy pressing and poor concentration once again to score a second.
After the second Chelsea goal went in, Villa barely upped the tempo. Bar a shot from Jota that flashed wide, the boys in claret and blue did little to threaten an equaliser. The most disappointing element of the defeat has to be the lack of pressing and desire to win the ball back after falling behind. There won’t be much time to dwell on the defeat though, as the Villa are off to Newcastle on Wednesday.
Aston Villa Player Ratings:
Orjan Nyland – 6.5
The big Norwegian Orjan Nyland made a couple of good saves to deny Chelsea more goals, including an impressive one from a Willian shot. Other than one strike that slipped out of his hands, he did look more assured in between the sticks.
Matt Targett – 5
Chelsea constantly found space out wide down the right as Matt Targett was run ragged by Azpilicueta and co. The young full-back wasn’t helped by the poor tracking back of Jack Grealish, meaning at times he was defending against two Chelsea players. He wasn’t able to get forward much as the Villa had very little of the ball.
Tyrone Mings – 6.5
Villa’s loss was not due to the effort that Tyrone Mings put in. He was solid and did his job at the heart of the defence well, making multiple blocks and clearances. He even played a couple of decent long balls to allow Villa to get up the pitch.
Kortney Hause – 6.5
Once again Kortney Hause was good in the air, and tidy enough with his feet on this occasion. The centre-back also made himself a handful up the other end, scoring the villa goal with a scuffed finish. Like with Mings, the defeat wasn’t down to lack of effort from Hause. Since Hause is good in the air, extra time on the training field to work on making it more impactful in the opponent’s penalty box would be a good idea.
Ezri Konsa – 5
Despite having had a solid game at right-back against Sheffield United, Ezri Konsa was made to look poor against a dominant Chelsea attack. Like other Villa full-backs have discovered this season, having Anwar El Ghazi in front of you tracking back will leave you horrifically exposed for large portions of the game. It’s because of this that Konsa couldn’t pick up Pulisic at the back post, as he was already marking another Chelsea player.
Douglas Luiz – 6.5 MOTM
Probably Villa’s best performer. Despite this, much like in the game against Sheffield United, Douglas started brightly and gradually tailed off as the ninety went on. He filled in well when defenders were dragged out of position and made a number of interceptions, clearances and blocks in the defensive third. On top of this his ball into the box for the goal was sublime.
Conor Hourihane – 5.5
Conor Hourihane certainly had plenty of energy as he tracked runners in behind well, and tried to pressure the Chelsea midfield. However, his performance wasn’t at the same level as in his previous outing. As Villa had little of the ball, he could hardly get forward at all.
John McGinn – 5.5
Such high hopes have been placed on John McGinn, and the Scotsman understandably wasn’t at his sharpest again. He really struggled to make an impact on the game, and he was particularly lax when picking up the Chelsea midfielders outside the box (and inside the box for the first Chelsea goal). The single time McGinn looked to be doing what he does best, he failed to make the most of a great opportunity to head the ball on goal. Expecting Super John to be at his dominant best after six months off would be unrealistic, but it’s still frustrating to see McGinn only a fraction as good as everyone knows he is.
Anwar El Ghazi – 4
Other than one five-minute spell in the first half, it was easy to forget that Anwar El Ghazi was actually on the pitch. His tracking back in a game where the Villans were so often on the back foot was woeful and definitely hindered the team’s cause. El Ghazi didn’t offer much on the front foot either, other than one effort from outside the box. The Villa faithful want to see effort and desire put in, and El Ghazi showed how little he is willing to work for the team, leaving his full-back defending against two or three Chelsea players on numerous Occasions.
Keinan Davis – 6
Target man Keinan Davis was given the thankless task of trying to make something out of nothing. Aimless clearances were pumped out of defence and Davis had to try and control and hold up the ball with no support from the midfield. He struggled as most strikers would in that situation, but managed to hold up the ball and bring others into play once or twice nonetheless.
Jack Grealish © – 5
In terms of the defensive side of the game, Jack Grealish didn’t look very interested. He often stood in no mans land defensively, neither pressing nor standing off, and allowed the Chelsea wingers and full-backs to glide past him with ease. Offensively, in a game where the team had 26% possession, Jack was never going to get much of the ball, and he didn’t. When he did get it to feet he lacked the ability to beat a man and Chelsea simply kicked him out of the game, with foul after foul on the Villa star man.
Off the Bench
Ally Samatta (56) – 6
Ally Samatta came onto the pitch and was put into exactly the same position as Keinan Davis, no support and expected to do everything himself. He only had 12 touches in 39 minutes of football, emphasising how isolated the Tanzanian was.
Marvelous Nakamba (69) – 5.5
Zimbabwean Marvelous Nakamba is not the player you want on the pitch when behind. The defensive midfielder tried his best to get the ball moving forward, but his passing vas very poor. He also floated out to the left-wing late on in a very odd move, and failed to have any impact.
Trezeguet (69) – 5.5
Other than the Egyptian’s limp free kick in the final seconds of the match, Trezeguet added little down the Villa flank. He didn’t get close enough to Ally Samatta to give the striker any support, and when he had the ball, he opted to pass sideways instead of driving at the Chelsea defence.
Jota (86) – n/a
Jota’s first touch of the ball was his only touch of any note. His low shot wide was probably Villa’s best second half attempt.
Use code MOMS10 below
Dean Smith – 4.5
When something doesn’t work several times before, why do it again? Dean Smith has failed time after time to change his tactics for taking on top half teams, so it isn’t a surprise that the same result has happened. The desire of the team to defend and press can be questioned yet again. Allowing teams to pass round at will, while defending in a passive fashion, simply doesn’t work.
Also, where is the urgency? Why is Trezequet allowed to have a shot from such a distance in the dying seconds? Why not play the percentages and load up the box and get Grealish to deliver a ball into the mixer?
Smith needs to be reminded that Villa are in a relegation battle and needs must.
In terms of some form of solution, fans have been calling for two up front for a long time now, and will it work? Maybe, Maybe not. But it’s something different that would help to solve the problem of strikers being isolated, and the attack being lethargic.
Villa need points now, and if Smith sticks with the same way of playing and such a passive defensive system, those points will be few and far between.
Good stuff by Jon, give him a follow on Twitter here – @JonParkinSports