Chelsea came from behind to secure an important victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday afternoon, with goals from Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud cancelling out Kortney Hause’s opener.
Chelsea began the match strongly and Mason Mount came close early on with a fierce left-footed drive which was well saved by Villa keeper Orjan Nyland. On the stroke of half time though, against the run of play, Villa’s centre-half Kortney Hause bundled home after a goalmouth scramble.
Chelsea hit back on the hour mark, with substitute Pulisic slotting home from Cesar Azpilicueta’s precise cross to level the scores. Bare moments later, Giroud collected another ball from his captain and hit the decisive second – which took a deflection off Conor Hourihane – to complete the turnaround and keep the Blues’ hold on fourth place secure.
Key Talking Point
Relegation-threatened Villa looked sharper in their opening fixture against Sheffield United on Wednesday. They looked unable to get the ball out of their half for the majority of the match, leaving the front three cut off from any attacking opportunities.
It took half an hour for Villa to spend an extended period in the Chelsea half, and they made it count on the stroke of half time when Hause hit the opening goal after the delivery into the metaphorical ‘corridor of uncertainty’ from Luiz.
However they struggled to cope with a resurgent Chelsea in the second half and were caught out by the pace of Pulisic and Mount on several occasions. A visibly frustrated Jack Grealish was kept largely quiet all afternoon by Kante and didn’t have the effect he would have liked on the match, not least thanks to being near-constantly fouled.
Starting XI: Nyland (7), Konsa (6), Hause (7), Mings (7), Targett (6); McGinn (5), Douglas Luiz (7*), Hourihane (6); Al Ghazi (6), Davis (7), Grealish (7).
Substitutes: Samatta (5), Trezeguet (6), Nakamba (6), Jota (6).
Douglas Luiz was a bright spark for Villa, with his delightful ball into the box giving the the Villans the lead. The young Brazilian defended and controlled the play diligently in the first half, and provided the only real moments of quality from the home side in a midfield battle which Villa rarely got on top of.
Key Talking Point
Frank Lampard sprung somewhat of a surprise with his team selection for Chelsea’s first match back after the restart; handing starts to Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Olivier Giroud.
The Blues controlled much of the first half with 76% possession; with N’Golo Kante returning to his more accustomed role of sitting in the middle of the midfield three, which had seen so much success in previous campaigns. It didn’t have the desired effect immediately though, with sloppy defending gifting Villa the opener.
Lampard rung the changes early in the second half, introducing Ross Barkley and the returning Christian Pulisic, who immediately sped up Chelsea’s attacking play and was rewarded with his first goal since November. Just a minute later, Giroud hit the Blues back ahead with a strong deflected shot and the Blues finally made up for their numerous missed chances in the first half.
Starting XI: Kepa (7); Azpilicueta (8), Rüdiger (6), Christensen (6), Alonso (6); Kante (7), Kovacic (6), Mount (7); Willian (6), Giroud (7), Loftus-Cheek (5).
Substitutes: Barkley (6), Pulisic (8*), Abraham (6), James (7).
Azpilicueta hit both Chelsea assists, but it was the young American’s arrival in the second half that really turned the tide for the Blues. Pulisic, who had been out with injury since January, brought electric pace and directness from the moment he was introduced and arrived the right place in the right time for the equaliser.
Aston Villa travel to St. James Park on Wednesday evening to face Newcastle, before hosting high-flying Wolves on Saturday lunchtime.
Chelsea, meanwhile, host reigning champions Manchester City on Thursday night before travelling to the Midlands for an FA Cup quarter-final tie against Leicester on Sunday.