Chelsea 1 – 1 Aston Villa
A short turn around from a fantastic win against Palace, meant that there was no time to stand and admire the performance. It was straight back to work for Dean Smith’s men. A trip to Stamford Bridge, to play a Chelsea side who had stopped and started all season, would be yet another test of Villa’s progress. The Blues had struggled against Arsenal, and so Frank Lampard made a handful of changes to his team, including a completely new centre-back pairing coming in.
There was one obvious change to Dean Smith’s starting line-up. Tyrone Mings would serve his one match ban, with Ezri Konsa returning to the fold in his place. The loss of Mings wouldn’t be too much of a worry for the Villa faithful, as Konsa and Kortney Hause had stepped up when needed so far this season. Bjorn Engels made his way onto the bench, as the back-up centre-back. Ross Barkley was ineligible to face his parent club, and so would be seen in the squad on New Year’s Day at the earliest.
On this day a year ago, the Villans were dismantled by a ten-man Watford side. Villa put up a bit more fight in this game. There was a bright start, with Douglas Luiz and John McGinn battling in the midfield. Jack Grealish had the best chance for Dean Smith’s men early doors, seeing his curling shot tipped wide.
It was Grealish that gifted the home side their first sniff of goal however, as his poor pass allowed Christian Pulisic through on goal. The American couldn’t make the most of that opportunity, but it wouldn’t be too long before the Blues were ahead. Poor tracking back from Bertrand Traore left Ben Chilwell completely free on the left. Experienced striker Olivier Giroud engineered some space in the penalty area, and made no mistake of the finish. Villa then struggled to make an impact, and went into half-time 1-0 down. It was a half that they had started well, but the Villans had faded somewhat.
Within five minutes in the second half, Villa worked a good position as Grealish played the ball out to Matty Cash. The cross was pinpoint, and Anwar El Ghazi finished between the ‘keeper’s legs. It was then a period of great confidence for the visitors, as they pressed heavily and looked to grab a second.
Emi Martinez was forced into a couple of saves as Chelsea pushed back. John McGinn clattered the bar with a powerful strike, and Jacob Ramsey would curl the ball just past the far post, in Villa’s best chances to make it 1-2. After a late scare from Chelsea’s star man, Ben Chilwell, it ended one apiece.
It was a thoroughly entertaining match, in which Villa looked as if they could have taken all three points. It further proved that Dean Smith’s men can consistantly compete with the so called ‘Big Six’. With confidence high in the ranks, a few points in the difficult upcoming fixtures are very achievable.
Emiliano Martinez – 8
Another assured performance by Emi Martinez. Is there a cross that the 6 foot 5 Argentinian can’t catch? Villa fans are yet to see any signs of unsteadiness. There were some well struck shots on the Villa goal, most notably from Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic, but Martinez was easily equal to them. His distribution was as quick and accurate as ever, and he seems to know the perfect times to slow the play down and hold on, or get the Villans moving up the pitch sharpish.
Matty Cash – 7.5
Matty Cash wasn’t handed an easy task up against one of the more slippery customers in the Premier League, Christian Pulisic. This combined with a lack of tracking back by Bertrand Traore, and the rampaging Ben Chilwell, meant he was often exposed. The 23-year-old did more than hold his own however, and put in some impressive tackles on Pulisic. The one time which Cash couldn’t stop Pulisic from feeding Chilwell, the goal was the result. On the front foot, Cash delivered a perfect cross for Anwar El Ghazi to cushion home, an important contribution.
Ezri Konsa – 8.5
Olivier Giroud has picked up plenty of tricks in his years of top-flight football. Ezri Konsa did a remarkable job of keeping the Frenchman quiet, as well as the host of other Chelsea attacking talents. Giroud managed to work some space between himself and Konsa once, and it resulted in a goal. When Villa needed a big block or tackle, there was Konsa. The most important block came as Chilwell caught a half-volley with power, and the Villa centre-half got down to put himself in the way. The reaction of Chilwell showed just how important that block was.
Kortney Hause – 8
Dean Smith has some serious thinking to do before the clash with Manchester United on New Year’s Day. Kortney Hause once again gave no reason to doubt his inclusion in the centre of the defence. It’s no surprise to see the 25-year-old won three aerial duels, but he also had no issue when the ball was on the ground. No clumsiness or sloppy passes, means Mings isn’t such a guaranteed shoe-in, if Hause keeps this up.
Matt Targett – 7.5
While his delivery in the final third often left much to be desired, Matt Target was safe as houses in defence. Hudson-Odoi and Azpilicueta couldn’t get anything going down the Chelsea right, as El Ghazi and Targett’s combined efforts thwarted crosses and passes into the Villa box. Targett also ended up with the most touches of any Villa player, showing his importance to the team as a route through to El Ghazi and Grealish on the left.
Douglas Luiz – 8
When one of the full-backs drifted out of position, or there was someone needed to fill in some space at the back, Douglas Luiz placed himself just where he needed to be. The Brazilian was hugely important in stunting many Chelsea attacks before they got going, as he threw in a tackle, or made an interception. His only poor moment was when he was caught strolling back towards goal as Giroud found the bottom corner.
John McGinn – 9 MOTM
Chelsea may have had N’Golo Kante in the centre of midfield, but John McGinn matched or bettered the French World Cup winner in every area. Three tackles, an interception, two key passes, six fouls won and a couple of aerial duels thrown in there for good measure, there wasn’t a single part of the Scotsman’s game that wasn’t at 100%. The only thing he couldn’t add was a goal, which would have made it a truly sensational display. Fans would have been on their feet when his sizzling strike nearly broke the crossbar, so close to a perfect day for Super John.
Bertrand Traore – 7
It was the lack of defensive awareness from Bertrand Traore that led to Ben Chilwell having ample time on the left on several occasions in the first half. One such occasion unfortunately led to a goal for the hosts, much to the dismay of Matty Cash, who gave the Burkinabe winger an earful. There were some nice flicks and passes, but once he got his defensive act together in the second half, his impact on the game waned. By the time he was taken off in the 87th minute, he looked as if he’d run a marathon.
Jack Grealish © – 7.5
After three brilliant performances in a row, Jack Grealish didn’t have quite the same impact against Chelsea. The skipper had the third most touches of any Villa player, but didn’t have many chances to drive at the Chelsea defence. In the first half Jack got his only real opportunity to do so, on the left side of the box, and it resulted in a well saved shot.
Anwar El Ghazi – 8
Anwar El Ghazi was guilty of running into corridors from time to time in the first half, but still had moments of quality. His teasing cross resulted in a chance for Matty Cash, and there were some pleasing moments of interplay down the left. It was less of a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ style performance from the winger, two shots with one on target is a far departure from the eight without scoring against Burnley. When the chance presented itself to the Dutchman, it was an inch-perfect finish between the legs of the Chelsea ‘keeper.
Ollie Watkins – 7.5
Yet again there was plenty of endeavour from Ollie Watkins, but one shot in the 90 minutes proves that he was isolated and drifted wide for periods of the game. He did in fact find himself out on the right, as the match came to a close, as Keinan Davis took the spot up top. The ex-Brentford man pressed well and put pressure on the Chelsea backline, but just couldn’t find that opportunity to get a shot on goal.
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Off the Bench
Jacob Ramsey (82) – 7
The first couple of touches by Jacob Ramsey were nearly the most important ones of the game. The attacking-midfielder came of the bench and took a touch before curling the ball just past Edouard Mendy’s far post. An interception during a Chelsea attack and a blocked shot in the dying seconds were his other contributions, in a decent 12 minute cameo.
Keinan Davis (87) – n/a
It was clear what the intention was when Dean Smith threw on Kienan Davis late on. The powerful forward tried to assert himself in the air, but didn’t have too much time to impress in.
Dean Smith – 8
Though Villa had a short lapse shortly before half-time, but other than this they were at their best throughout. A Chelsea side that had the supposed better players, worth £50million plus each, looked like Villa’s equals. Dean Smith has a squad of players he trusts, with promising options like Ramsey on the bench, and Ross Barkley coming back into the fold.
With the confidence flowing as it is, Villa should be looking at a defensively shaky Man United and thinking they can get something. This team can play at the Premier League’s top table, as they proved with their drive and quality in this game. Others will be making a big mistake if they underestimate Dean Smith and his Villans.