Aston Villa 2 – 0 Chelsea

Match reports

The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Fourth place was not exactly what Roman Abramovich had in mind when he agreed with Jose Mourinho that Chelsea needed to reinvent themselves as the Premier League’s most entertaining side. Beaten by Aston Villa yesterday, and with a team struggling to score goals, Mourinho has a lonely week ahead to contemplate just how his side are to re-launch a season that went badly awry yesterday.”

The Times, Martin Samuel: “Roman Abramovich does not say much. Yesterday he did not need to. His exit two minutes from time after Gabriel Agbonlahor put the match beyond Chelsea’s reach was a speech in itself. Face like thunder, Abramovich headed for the exit as his team limped towards journey’s end behind him, pausing only to give the most cursory handshake of congratulation to Doug Ellis, the former Aston Villa chairman. The official explanation was that he had gone down to the dressing-room to see the players, but that is a strange one. Did he not think they were still going to be there five minutes after the final whistle? Why the rush? Already rumours have circulated that he is unhappy with the thrill factor of Chelsea’s play this season – hence his stalking of Ronaldinho – but until now he has at least been unable to question the return. This was quite different, though. Lousy football is one thing; lousy losing football quite another.”

The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The flaws at Villa Park are of the type known to exasperate a Chelsea proprietor craving spectacle. There was scant indication of any capacity in the side to respond to the opener from the debutant Zat Knight. Perhaps Abramovich will revert to championing the return of Andriy Shevchenko, who has been fit enough to represent Ukraine.”

Scottish Herald, Karen Giles: “Without Lampard taking matters into his own hands and driving through the middle, Chelsea showed no real bite. Or imagination. Or flair.”

Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “An unexpected loss should not dampen Chelsea’s fire. Jose Mourinho’s side were all at sea at times yesterday, but only a fool would scramble the life-boats simply because John Terry, Didier Drogba and company showed a rare weakness at defending and attacking corners.”

The highlights

Click here for extended high quality video highlights from Virgin Media. (Outside the UK? See here for brief goal highlights.)

The good

  1. The first 20 minutes or so promised a great deal. I’d watched Arsenal comprehensively beat Portsmouth at the Emirates Stadium on Sky and was enjoying this game just as much. We were attacking at will and at speed, Shaun Wright-Phillips was on fire down the flanks, it really did look promising. Aston Villa had their chances too, but Petr Cech was back to his best between the sticks. Then the game petered out. Half time came and went, and just after the break we conceded from a set piece, Drogba uncharacteristically at fault. We chucked everything including the kitchen sink at Villa as the second half progressed, but ultimately created few goal-scoring opportunities. Villa were a constant threat on the break, and Jose Mourinho’s ridiculous tactic of sending a defender to play as a striker in the closing stages cost us a second goal. Credit to Villa, particularly Martin Laursen, who was outstanding in defence.
  2. Shaun Wright-Phillips. Our best player. I’m not sure what Mourinho was thinking when he substituted him in the second half. Perhaps he was a bit wasteful in front of goal, but aside from that he was the only one who looked like opening up a resolute Villa defence. He probably should have had a penalty in the opening two minutes after Laursen man-handled him to the floor, but referee Mark Clattenburg bottled giving the decision.
  3. Michael Essien. The only other player who warrants a mention in this section. It was good to see him back in midfield.

The bad

  1. The result. Our first Premier League defeat since the 2-0 loss at Anfield in January. Our struggles at Villa Park continue; we haven’t won there since 1999.
  2. Lack of creativity in the final third, particularly in the opposition penalty area. A goal difference of plus one after five games tells a story. We’re just not creating enough clear-cut goal-scoring chances, and in this game we didn’t look like beating Scott Carson after Villa had taken the lead. Mystifying when you consider how many attacking players were on the pitch. The substitution of Wright-Phillips, our best and most creative player, didn’t help. All this highlights just how valuable Frank Lampard’s goals are to us.
  3. Our strike force is still pretty ineffectual when Drogba’s not at the top of his game and scoring regularly. Salomon Kalou is no striker, and Claudio Pizarro just isn’t getting the service to prove he can score 20 goals a season. We lack a natural goal scorer. Or do we? Where’s Andriy Shevchenko? £30m and not even in the squad. No wonder Roman Abramovich had his head in his hands.
  4. Jose Mourinho’s tactics in the dying minutes of the game. Sending John Terry up front and hoofing the ball to him is not a tactic you expect from a world class manager and team. It smacked of desperation and highlighted our inability to create chances. I don’t recall this tactic ever working when Robert Huth was asked to do it, and it certainly didn’t work in this game as Villa went up the other end and finished us off with a second goal. Like Abramovich, I too would have walked out.

Man of the Match

It’s got to be Shaun Wright-Phillips again.

Final thoughts

Liverpool won 6-0. Arsenal played Portsmouth off the park. Manchester United are back to winning ways without playing well. And we lost 2-0 at Aston Villa. The doom mongers will have a field day. A lot of their criticism will be justified; we were really poor in this game despite bossing it for long periods.

An off day? Or signs of an inherent problem, a lack of creativity? Will Mourinho resort to his tried and trusted methods, methods that get results? Will Abramovich like it if he does? Lots of questions that won’t be answered until in-form Blackburn Rovers visit Stamford Bridge in 12 days’ time. Lampard should be back by then.

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