Chelsea 1 – 1 Aston Villa

Giroud scored his 8th goal for Chelsea this season as they drew with Aston Villa. Villa was trailing to an Olivier Giroud header when El Ghazi scored a second-half equaliser to enable Villa to stretch their unbeaten run to five games. Anwar El Ghazi scored his fifth goal in as many games as Aston Villa came from behind to earn a point against Chelsea in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge.

The visitors started brightly but found themselves behind when Giroud marked his return to the Chelsea starting line-up with a trademark finish from Ben Chilwell’s cross. Parity was restored five minutes after the interval, though, when the unmarked El Ghazi converted Matty Cash‘s inviting delivery at the back post.

Both sides had chances to steal the victory, with Villa coming closest when John McGinn smashed a fierce long-range effort off the crossbar. The result lifts Villa to fifth in the table, a point outside the top four, while Chelsea move sixth. On a bitterly chill night at Stamford Bridge Chelsea and Aston Villa fought out a raucous, feisty 1-1 draw that will leave Dean Smith the happier manager.

For Frank Lampard a point here made it one from a possible 10 over 17 days either side of Christmas. Chelsea were bitty and fretful at times, and convincing at others, but there was no lack of effort or fight from the players. Villa produced a fine, resilient performance and might easily have won the game, even if Anwar El Ghazi’s second-half goal was helped by a weak piece of defending from Andreas Christensen, who injured his own foot trying to foul Jack Grealish.

At kick off Stamford Bridge was a striking spectacle under its cold white lights, steam billowing off the players, the shouts of the benches ringing around this tier 4 ghost-ground. For both teams this was a second game in the space of three days. Dean Smith resisted the urge to rotate as Villa came to west London playing an appealing style of football, able to press from the front or counterattack, and with the league’s in-form midfield general playing with a kind of light around him right now.

Chelsea had the means, and indeed the tactical need to rotate this evolving team. They returned to the Bridge having lost three in four, and with Lampard talking about “personality” and players not working hard enough. This kind of thing might work as a screen in public, but it is to be hoped in private the manager is focusing more closely on things like combinations, attacking rhythms, and drawing the most from a group of players assembled on the hoof.

Timo Werner, in particular, is a high spec part used to running into space from deep in a more central role. His lack of impact is not a failing of “personality” but a confusion of roles. Here he was rested at the start. Cesar Azpilicueta came in at right-back, a sound defensive move given the influence of Jack Grealish on that side. Olivier Giroud and Callum Hudson-Odoi started in attack.

Chelsea began with some pent-up aggression. Twice in the opening minutes, Grealish was jostled to the ground and left waving his hand in search of a phantom free-kick. With 11 minutes gone Chelsea made the first real chance of the game. Christian Pulisic picked up a misplaced Grealish pass, skittered through the right-hand channel and spanked a powerful shot just wide.

At the other end Grealish pranced away from a line of blue shirts, hit the byline and pulled the ball back into a crowd of players just away from Ollie Watkins. After which Chelsea’s initial burst of energy settled into a muted back-and-forth. Ben Chilwell’s overlapping runs were by far the most potent weapon, helped by Bertrand Traoré’s failure to trackback. And it was from this side they took the lead on 34 minutes. Chilwell made excellent ground to receive a neat pass from Pulisic. His cross to the near post was perfectly clipped for Giroud to lean in, wrench his neck muscles and send a lovely centre forward’s header into the bottom corner.

It was Giroud’s eighth goal in his last eight Chelsea games, five of those starts. He linked the play really well here, played on the final shoulder, moved with an easy gliding intelligence, and gave the Chelsea attack a kind of on-the-hoof coherence. How Chelsea and Lampard have needed him these last few weeks, a 34-year-old bolt-on attacking plan with the skill to make this team function in its more difficult moments.

Soon after the lively Mason Mount skipped through on the left and smashed a shot over the bar from an angle. Hudson-Odoi began to float across and join the attack in the centre. And Chelsea were dominant as half-time approached, zipping the ball about at speed, combinations firing.

The second half began as the first had ended, with Chilwell still free to gallop away down the left. Another fine whipped cross fell safely. But it was Villa who scored on 50 minutes.

The goal came from a concussive 50-50 challenge between Grealish and Christensen on the Villa left near the halfway line. Christensen left a leg out as Grealish grooved past, but this was a case of mugging yourself as both men went down in pain. The Chelsea man stayed down. Stuart Attwell waved play on correctly. Villa funnelled the ball to the right. Matthew Cash curled a fine dipping cross and El Ghazi volleyed through Édouard Mendy’s legs.

Christensen was soon back up on his feet: there was no need to stop the game. But his absence at the back was expertly pounced upon. It really was a moment for a central defender to hobble back into position rather than wait for attention. Chelsea pressed back with commendable energy.

There was a startling clearance off the line by Ezri Konsa with 65 minutes gone, leaping back to clear a goalbound header from Pulisic after a fine cross by Hudson-Odoi. Two minutes later John McGinn smashed a shot on to the Chelsea bar from 30 yards, the rebound sending the ball skirling up a similar distance into the London sky.

Villa had come on strong in that middle period, Douglas Luiz and McGinn wresting control of midfield. With 20 minutes to go Lampard sent on Werner and Kai Havertz, £120m of high-grade talent still looking to hit the groove. There were chances at both ends. Jacob Ramsey shot inches wide shortly after coming on. Chilwell smashed a late volley past the far post. A point apiece was a fair result.

Source – The Guardian

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