Chelsea’s Reserves started their 2009/10 season with their heaviest defeat since moving to Griffin Park two years ago, losing 4-0 to a quite brilliant performance from Aston Villa. The Blues were equally disappointing, but goals two goals from Ciaran Clark sandwiched by efforts from Andreas Weimann and Marc Albrighton left new manager Steve Holland with much thinking to do.

Holland was able to call upon first team squad members Daniel Sturridge and Ross Turnbull for his first selection, and with a shortage of midfielders, Jeffrey Bruma played in the anchor role of a diamond midfield. However, the selection of Turnbull was to be one which ultimately cost Chelsea the game, although even without his errors they would have lost, and lost well. Villa’s experience came in the form of Togolese midfielder Moustapha Salifou and goalkeeper Andy Marshall, although many of their team have been in and around the first team squad in the last year.

It didn’t take long for the visitors to make an impact, opening the scoring after just nine minutes. Turnbull collected a backpass on his weaker left foot but with time to clear, but took too long and was closed down by the lively Weimann. An attempted clearance was blocked, and fell kindly to the Austrian to tuck into the unguarded net from a wide angle. It was one-way traffic with nothing from Chelsea going forward, as the diamond midfield left too much space in the middle for Villa to keep the ball and use it well. A regular outlet was diminutive winger Barry Bannan, who was giving everyone the run-around. He came in from the left flank, danced away from Nana Ofori-Twumasi before turning back and firing a sharp effort which Turnbull held well.

Chelsea quite literally had nothing going forward and Villa’s super-slick movement of the ball was causing headaches, particularly down Chelsea’s right. Michael Woods, playing in an unaccustomed right hand side role, struggled to keep up with Nathan Baker on the overlap, and Bannan was making them tick. Midway through the first half the second goal arrived, and it was on Turnbull again. The newly-arrived stopper decided to come to try and claim a deep free-kick, and whilst he got to the ball, on coming down he dropped it, having collided with Nana Ofori-Twumasi. He failed to recover, and Ciaran Clark prodded the ball into another open goal.

Salifou followed that with a penetrating run and fierce drive which brushed the top of the goalnet as Villa sought to extend their advantage. Chelsea’s most lively player was Jacopo Sala, and he nearly benefitted from a mistake by Marshall at the other end, but ran out of time and options and his shot was easily blocked by Shane Lowry. The hosts had been second best in every department and whilst it had been two mistakes to give Kevin McDonald’s side the lead, you felt that they would have found a way regardless.

The second half started along the same lines. Within three minutes a cross from the left saw Turnbull come to collect, but once again collide with Hutchinson and merely palm the ball on. Chris Herd had an open goal, but his header went wide, leaving Turnbull merely red-faced, rather than suicidal. It merely delayed the inevitable though, with 3-0 arriving on 54 minutes. Bannan’s inswinging corner went into a cluster of players, where Clarkwent for it and claimed his second of the night, althought it may well go down as an own goal to Hutchinson when it is all said and done.

At least Chelsea started to come into the game. Kakuta’s dribbling was lively but without end product, but he did earn a free kick 30 yards from goal which interested Bruma and Sturridge. Sturridge won the argument and was nearly vindicated as his effort flew past the wall and crashed onto the top of the crossbar and away for a goal kick. Ten minutes later Kakuta drew Marshall’s first real save of the night, with an unlikely right-footed curler from 20 yards which earned a corner.

But, as with most of the night, Villa fought back and grabbed a fourth three minutes later. Albrighton picked the ball up on halfway and drove unchallenged into Chelsea territory, moving inside. From 25 yards, without a blue shirt closing him down, he hit a crisp left-footed effort along the turf and past the outstretched Turnbull into the bottom corner, evidently to the surprise of the few hundred in attendance. It could have been five in the closing stages, when Weimann headed back across goal, but Turnbull managed to flick it onto the post before Magnay hacked the ball to safety.

Sturridge finished the game with a fierce drive wide, but a goal for Chelsea would have been unjust. It was a poor performance all round, with a disappointing lack of enthusiasm or awareness. Too many players wanted too many touches of the ball and as a result ended up running backwards, looking to play the harder option than give the easy ball. Kakuta, Sala, and Borini were all guilty of this, although Sala was more direct with much of his play, and Borini at least put in a good shift without much supply. Villa’s back four all towered over Chelsea’s front two yet the supply was often aerial and even in the event a header was won, the second ball was rarely contested.

Tactically, the head of the diamond was rotated between Sala and Kakuta, with Woods playing both right and left at times. Sala looked at his best with the space and freedom behind the strikers, but by and large there were few options and even fewer ideas. When the team followed Holland’s vociferous advice from the touchline, in keeping the touches minimal and moving the ball quickly into space, they had some success. The new coach’s ideas were on the right wavelength, and his frustration was tangible as his players often failed to heed the advice being given.

Excuses can be made – players returning from injury, an incident-filled week, a new manager – but at the end of the day, in front of Carlo Ancelotti and his first team staff, this wasn’t the way to start the season.

Photos from the match can be found [ here ]

Team: Turnbull, Ofori-Twumasi, Magnay, Hutchinson (c) (Gokhan 69), Gordon, Bruma, Woods, Kakuta, Sala, Borini, Sturridge
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Ahmed, Phillip, Philliskirk

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