Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea: Blues' second-half comeback boosts top-four hopes

  • 2 weeks   ago
Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea: Olivier Giroud and Christian Pulisic seal comeback for Frank Lampard's men to bolster Champions League hopes... but hosts suffer defeat in battle to avoid the drop despite Kortney Hause's opener
Riotous crowd or behind closed doors, December or June, it's all the same to Olivier Giroud when he eyes the claret and the rampant lion.
The France striker simply adores playing against Aston Villa, almost as much as his manager Frank Lampard, who scored more against them than any other club during his own prolific playing career.
Giroud has scored in each of his last six Premier League appearances against Villa and this, his eighth in those six games, was enough to secure victory for Chelsea as they came back from behind to tighten their grip on fourth place.  
Kortney Hause had fired Dean Smith's side into a lead they barely deserved, two minutes before half-time, but the Londoners hit back and reclaimed control with two goals in two minutes around the hour.
Lampard can take his share of credit, firstly for selecting Giroud up front ahead of Tammy Abraham who scored 26 goals on loan at Aston Villa last season, and then with a substitution which reaped instant rewards.
Chelsea were dominating the ball but had rarely opened up the home team when Christian Pulisic and Ross Barkley were sent on to replace Ruben Loftus-Cheek, making his first appearance in 406 days, and Mateo Kovacic.
It was Pulisic who levelled, slamming a half-volley past Orjan Nyland and into the net off the bar, having arrived late to meet a deep cross from Cesar Azpilicueta on the half-volley.
Chelsea captain Azpilicueta produced a succession of fine crosses from the right throughout the game. 
With Villa offering so little in attack, he and Willian overloaded left back Matt Targett and were the source of so much of what the visitors did well on the day.
It was his cross which set up the winner. This time he appeared on the left, having forged forward on a diagonal run moments earlier. He was still there to pick out Giroud, who gathered the ball with his back to goal, spun and finished.
With more firepower on its way next season in the shape of £53million striker Timo Werner and with Abraham's impressive progress this season, it was a reminder of his enduring quality at the age of 33 and a reason why Lampard was keen to extend his contract. 
He links up play better than most modern centre-forwards, and can conjure an important goal against packed defences if the crosses rain in.
This one was vital as Chelsea moved five points clear of Manchester United.
It will be an outstanding achievement for Lampard if he can secure a place in the top four at the end of his first season as a Premier League manager, having inherited a team which has lost Eden Hazard and was banned from signings.  
Not only has he proved able to inspire the young academy graduates but he has squeezed value from the thirtysomethings, such as Giroud. Willian, 31 and out of contract at the end of the month, sparkled at Villa Park and there was no stronger and more effective player on the pitch than 30-year-old Azpilicueta.
Chelsea dominated the first half an hour. Mason Mount and Willian tested Nyland before they were punished for failing to convert their possession into something more tangible.
Aston Villa stirred. First, a couple of warning shots: an explosive effort by Anwar El Ghazi was saved from Kepa Arrizabalaga and then John McGinn darted ahead of Antonio Rudiger and flashed a header wide. 
Hause struck two minutes before half-time. Douglas Luiz delivered a teasing cross from the right, swung behind Chelsea's back line and spinning away from the 'keeper and Hause escaped his marker, slid and, at full stretch, turned a shot on target. 
Kepa made the save but could only force the ball back into a dangerous area. Hause was quick to his feet, able to adjust and chopped his second effort into the net for his first goal of the season.
Briefly, Villa could envisage an unexpected victory, although Chelsea were soon back in the groove, dictating the rhythm, pouring forward and creating more chances.
Tyrone Mings blocked from Marcos Alonso and Kovacic fired wide and the visitors pulled level on the hour through Pulisic. 
Aston Villa were still reeling, two minutes later, when Azpilicueta and Giroud combined. 
There was no way back for Dean Smith's team. The closest they came was a late effort by substitute Jota, which was squeezed narrowly wide.
They had glimpsed a way out of the bottom three in a weekend when relegation rivals Bournemouth, West Ham and Norwich dropped points.
But they could not match Chelsea and have now taken only one point from two games since the restart and that was a point courtesy of a technical glitch in the goalless draw against Sheffield United.
Villa remain deep in relegation trouble and they go next to Newcastle. At least they won't face Giroud again.
Chelsea's march towards the Champions League next season shows no signs of flagging, as they pull clear of the likes of Manchester United and Sheffield United who have all dropped points this weekend. Villa though remain in 19th as their relegation worries only increase.
Still one match to come in the Premier League - and it's a big one as title chasing Liverpool travel to rivals Everton for the Merseyside derby. Join me for all action here!