Aston Villa 2 – 1 Chelsea
The final game of an intriguing Aston Villa season, in which there have been plenty positives, standout results, and some typical Villa Jekyll and Hyde performances, saw the visit of Chelsea, who were looking to secure top four, ahead of their Champions League final against Manchester City.
The game would be Villa’s 1,000th game in the Premier League. A respectable win rate of just over 30 per cent shows Villa have done their fair share of winning, but there’s definitely been some rough years in there. It also marked the first game back at Villa Park with fans. Great progress, and a slight return to normality for the lucky 10,000 that were selected in the ballot.
Dean Smith named an unchanged team from that which beat Tottenham Hotspur last time out. The only changes came on the bench, as Tom Heaton (who looks to be joining Manchester United at the end of the season) and Keinan Davis came in for Jed Steer and the ineligible Ross Barkley. Carney Chukwuemeka and Jaden Philogene-Bidace would be looking to build of their impressive cameos last time out.
It appeared early on that it would be a tough afternoon for the fans in Villa Park. Chelsea were all over Villa for the opening 25 minutes, with the pick of the chances falling to Mason Mount. The number 19 blazed the ball over the bar to spare the Villa faithful some pain.
After this spell, Smith’s men held onto the ball instead of trying to boot it long, and worked their way back into the game. John McGinn had a great chance to put the home side ahead as he pressed Kovacic, robbed the ball and ran through, before shooting wide.
This promise soon bore fruit as Matt Targett played a corner low, that Bertrand Traore spun out from his position at the back post, breaking into space in the centre of the box to lash home with a bizarre scuffed finish. A fortuitous bounce guided the ball into the net off the bar. The fans inside the stadium roared, and even for those of us watching from home, it felt like a special moment.
Villa continued to press and attack into the second half, and it wouldn’t take long for this work to be rewarded. Bertrand Traore went down under a challenge from Jorginho. Anwar El Ghazi dispatched the resulting penalty, 2 – 0!
Chelsea came at the Villa for the rest of the game. Kai Havertz missed an incredible chance in close, and Emi Martinez had to be alert on a couple of occasions. Then Ben Chilwell would give the away side a chance if getting back into the match, Martinez couldn’t quite scoop his shot away before it went over the line.
With some more fantastic work from the back four and Marvelous Nakamba, they clung onto a 2-1 win.
Sweet Caroline rang out across the ground at full-time, and a season of improvement was rounded off in some style. Hopefully next time Villa grace the turf, there will be a few more than 10,000 in attendance.
Emiliano Martinez – 8
Emi Martinez pulled off one sensational save to deny Ben Chilwell at 2-1. The speed to get down and deflect the ball with his legs was fantastic, and the sign of a top quality ‘keeper. Martinez has no doubt been the best signing from the summer. Whilst Ollie Watkins has been very good indeed, Martinez has been the vital piece in building the foundations of a solid defence.
Ezri Konsa – 7
Ezri Konsa did lose Chilwell at the back post for the goal. The 23-year-old tucked in a little bit too much and that allowed Chelsea’s left-back to ghost in unmarked. With that aside he was very composed and measured at the back. This is exactly what fans expect from Konsa, a Rolls Royce of a defender, that’s only getting better.
Kortney Hause – 8
While Kortney Hause was guilty of some aimless long passes in the first-half, he was defensively very strong. His five aerial duels led the team, as did his very impressive 14 clearances. Whilst Hause may never be an exceptional defender, he’s a very dependable player when called upon. He’s committed, no-nonsense, and sometimes that’s just what the team needs.
Tyrone Mings – 8
It says a lot that it was like watching two different teams against Crystal Palace, and then in the final two matches. Tyrone Mings is a formidable leader at the back, who knows exactly where everyone needs to be, and makes sure he tells them. The towering defender’s two tackles and nine clearances show how active he was defensively. Up against the likes of Havertz, Mount, Ziyech and Werner, he did a brilliant job.
Matt Targett – 8
Matt Targett has been Mr. Consistent this season. Starting every game, and rarely putting in less than a seven out of ten. Several times throughout the game, Targett had to throw in a tackle, or put pressure on his man to put them off. The prime example was against Havertz, where the pressure on the Germany international’s back just caused him to fluff the chance. Three tackles and two interceptions, should we expect any less?
Marvelous Nakamba – 9 MOTM
Wow! What a performance from Marvelous Nakamba. If there was a player to be pressured, space to be filled, shot to be blocked or tackle to be made, the Zimbabwean was there. Getting booked didn’t put him off his task either, he kept going, and continued to be an immense thorn in the side of those in blue. It has to be said, some of Villa’s best performances have come with Nakamba on the pitch.
John McGinn – 8
There were times when John McGinn looked unstoppable. The Scot was haring about the pitch, throwing his body into opposition players and driving forward. The past two games have been McGinn at his best, providing teeth in the midfield, whilst contributing to attacking moves.
Bertrand Traore – 8
Bertrand Traore once again showed what a good signing he has been. The Burkinabe winger was full of quick turns and flicks. The problem early on was the lack of final ball or a decent finish… he soon saw to that. The clever move to create the goal was perfectly executed, and his scuffed finish into the ground was better than if he’d caught it cleanly. If Traore can be just a little more consistent week-in week-out, then he could easily bag a whole load of goals next season.
Jack Grealish © – 7
This wasn’t Jack Grealish’s best game, but Villa just look better with him in the team. He draws player towards him, creating space, and his presence seemingly lifts the confidence of every player on the pitch. He gave the ball away a bit more than he probably would have liked, but injuries take a long time to recover fully from. Perhaps overlooked was the fact he managed to give Chelsea a bit of needle, which helped them lose their discipline.
Anwar El Ghazi – 7
Anwar El Ghazi still has a 100 per cent record from the penalty spot. There was never any doubt as the Dutch winger sent the ‘keeper the wrong way. Despite not starting that many games, El Ghazi has picked up 10 league goals. Even if he’s not as his best, he has the ability to pick up a goal with a powerful strike, or keep his cool from the spot.
Ollie Watkins – 7
For periods of the game Ollie Watkins had yet more thankless running to do, as he was isolated while Villa dug in. Rudiger and Silva at the back for Chelsea had no time to think as Watkins bombed down on them. The ex-Brentford man didn’t have a shot, but his efforts were still central to claret and blue success.
Off the Bench
Carney Chukwuemeka (72) – 6
Even with the youth cup final upcoming, Smith showed faith in the youth and brought on Carney Chukwuemeka. The 17-year-old only had nine touches, but didn’t do anything wrong, and pressed the Chelsea midfield well enough.
Jacob Ramsey (79) – n/a
Even with over ten minutes on the pitch, Jacob Ramsey only had three touches. That isn’t a bad reflection on the youngster, it more shows the pattern of the play late on. The number 41 did well on one occasion to dart in and take the ball away from a Chelsea attacker.
Dean Smith – 8
Dean Smith did say his sides finish strongly, he just didn’t stipulate how long that strong finish would be. Villa picked up two fantastic results to cap off the season, even more impressive after the dismal display at Selhurst Park. With ‘super league’ scalps in the bag, Villa can go into next season knowing that they can beat anyone (apart from Manchester United and their soft penalties). Whilst it would be easy to be negative and say that 2021’s form has been poor, it’s better to look at the positive.
With some high quality additions in the summer, this team can really go places. Smith is learning and growing along with the players, he won’t always get things right, but that’s part of it all. The likes of Elmohamdy and Taylor have been good servants to the club, but bringing in replacements there, and some quality at the front end will bring Villa to the next level. The addition of promising youth prospects also makes next season one to be excited about.
The future is bright.