Two things saw Chelsea through Wednesday night’s match. The first would be the efficiency taken from Mourinho’s first reign, still getting the win without playing well. The second would be the element of luck that seems to accompany serious title challengers whenever they need it.
Branislav Ivanovic’s winning goal was typical of the dominant Serbian. But the composure displayed in his thumping header was something that had been missing just three minutes before when seemingly ruffled by Christian Benteke, he lashed out with his elbow and escaped with a yellow card.
The dying moments of the game again saw Villa up in arms. Whilst challenging for a header, the ball struck John Terry’s arm which was very much in an unnatural position away from his body. Again Chelsea went unpunished and Terry joined Ivanovic on the escapee list.
But it wasn’t all controversy. Chelsea’s early opener was the result of Ramires’ interception and snappy passing from Lampard and Oscar. Eden Hazard latched onto the final ball and had his effort palmed away by Brad Guzan but only into oncoming defender Ciaran Clark, who must feel slightly aggrieved by the OG next to his name.
Chelsea stayed largely in control until Gabby Agbonlahor’s burst of pace just before haly-time led to Benteke’s equaliser. After drawing in and skimming past Ivanovic, Agbonlahor’s squared ball found the feet of Benteke who’s neat touch and shot beat Petr Cech at his near post. Arguably Cech shouldn’t have been beaten but Benteke couldn’t have picked out a better spot.
The second half began and Chelsea began to stagnate. It had shades of the season’s opener against Hull, except this time the opposition looked capable of scoring. Chelsea were crying out for width and energy and after Agbonlahor’s bending strike went close and Cech was forced to save from Andreas Weimann, Mourinho introduced Romelu Lukaku and Andre Schurlle.
Schrulle hugged the touchline and immediately you could see the positives of the changes. Oscar, Mata and Hazard had become suffocated against a packed Villa midfield and Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph had become dominant. Schurlle was drawing men wide and creating gaps for through balls to Lukaku who looked like he had a point to prove.
The young Belgian shoved and barged his way straight into Villa’s defenders at every opportunity and on 75 minutes, earned the free kick that led to Chelsea’s winner. It was the kind of pace and power a Fernando Torres of old used to display, something which United centre backs never seem able to deal with. Let’s just hope one of the aforementioned can find that brilliance on Monday night.