On a day of reflection and plenty of emotion, Chelsea were able to come away from a partisan Villa Park with an impressive 4-2 victory. The Blues tend to struggle when they visit Villa, and with the sad news of Stanislav Petrov’s serious illness filtering through yesterday, it appeared as if a galvanised home side would cause Roberto di Matteo’s team some strife.
Goals from Daniel Sturridge and Fernando Torres either side of a Branislav Ivanovic brace kept Villa at bay however, despite an admirable comeback which saw James Collins and Eric Lichaj haul their side back into the game, bringing the score level after a two-goal deficit.
With Petrov watching from the stands – and receiving an ovation from all in attendance mid-way through the first-half – Villa fell behind early on. Salomon Kalou – still in the Chelsea XI after his mid-week Champions League goal against Benfica – cut in from the left and whipped a cross into the Villa area. It wasn’t cleared properly, and fell into the path of Juan Mata who squared across the six-yard box, hoping to find Fernando Torres. A brave block by Stephen Warnock kept the ball away from the Spaniard, but it ran kindly on to a waiting Daniel Sturridge to tuck away. Less than ten minutes had been played at this point.
The next goal was far simpler, and occurred after the break. Mata’s corner found Ivanovic in the box, and the Serbian goal machine was able to control the ball then poke it home for 2-0.
But Villa didn’t give up, and although their fightback came late on, it was almost enough to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat. With a little under fifteen minutes left to play, Lichaj delivered a massive throw-in which was met by the head of James Collins, who looped the ball over the despairing Petr Cech.
Lichaj himself then equalised a matter of minutes later. Villa spread the ball from right to left with Marc Albrighton collecting just outside of the Chelsea box. Some neat footwork opened up an opportunity to cross, and he delivered to the back post where Lichaj caught the Blues defence unawares. It was a simple finish helped out by the sloppiest of defending.
The scripts were all written to say that Villa would continue on and win this match, but it wasn’t to be. Florent Malouda – subbed on for Mata while Chelsea still had their two-goal lead – took a corner three minutes later, and a Torres flick-on fizzed into the path of Ivanovic, who headed home.
Another assist for the striker, who then got on the scoresheet himself with an injury-time goal. Sturridge took advantage of a stretched Villa defence to feed Torres with a through-ball, and his shot from just inside the area was too precise for Shay Given.
The neutrals won’t be impressed, but Villa’s effort was impressive. Chelsea were just too strong, and the di Matteo resurgence continues after a fine win at Villa Park.