Chelsea defeated Aston Villa in unconvincing but necessary fashion as pressure lifted off Jose Mourinho’s shoulders and was dumped firmly on Tim Sherwood’s.
The Blues, who had lost their two previous games before the international break occurred, were slow to start the game but had their opponents to thank, with Joleon Lescott and Alan Hutton both culpable to two easy goals.
It therefore remains to be seen whether Chelsea have actually turned a corner after 14 days of no club action, but the more pressing concern will have been securing the three points.
The shake-up had to come after some star players had continually underperformed. Cahill, Hazard and Matic, three players who could make the starting line-up of any team, were all benched, whilst Ivanovic was injured. It gave match-time to the likes of Baba Rahman and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, with the hope youth could rejuvenate this team shot on confidence.
It nearly paid instant dividends. A Villa mistake send Pedro racing towards the box and, opting to pass to Loftus-Cheek instead, the youngster’s shot was deflected for a corner.
But it was no less nervy a start. Aston Villa were eager to capitalise on the pressure and Rahman was far too weak for Hutton, who managed to get two shots away that thankfully Begovic was equal to.
The pressure kept coming from a route one Guzan kick, which launched the ball at Chelsea’s half. Grealish found Ayew who found Gestede racing in front of John Terry. Fortunately the ball came too quickly for the Villa front-man to toe-poke on target, but it was a let off.
Costa was back from his ban at a time where it looks like his manager may suffer from a ban after his £50,000 fine for calling referees “afraid to give decisions to Chelsea” after the loss to Southampton, and it was the Spaniard who got the game’s first goal.
Guzan received the ball from a back-pass and, with plenty of time to pick a colleague, opted for Lescott, whose lack of control saw the ball slip under his foot and through to Willian, who raced clear on goal and unselfishly squared the ball for Costa, who just had to stay on-side, to tap in. Costa recognised Willian’s contribution with his celebration.
Too often Chelsea have let leads slip this season so it was reassuring to see a second go in early in the second half. Ramires did well to pinch the ball from a Villa attack and he freed Fabregas, whose looped ball was chested by Costa. The striker turned his man before attempting a pass in the box to a team-mate, but in the process saw the ball deflect off Hutton’s right heel and over Guzan. It was the luck Chelsea needed, and exactly the luck Sherwood did not.
It should have become three with 10 minutes to go as Fabregas went totally unmarked five yards from goal, but his shot flew wide from a tight angle.
Costa needed to cause more controversy towards the end of the match as his tangle with Westwood turned ugly and petulant, but it was a match where his feet did most of the talking.
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Man of the Match
WILLIAN: Costa deserves praise for scoring one and making the other, but his gloss is somewhat tarnished with a rough approach to the game. In truth, the credit for his goal should be owed to Willian, who was Chelsea’s bright spark after Hazard was benched. The Brazilian has proven to be a competent set-piece taker in recent times, as well as an unselfish assist-maker and engine. 8/10
Mourinho was pleased some form of normality was restored: “We are not the best team in the country, but we are a team with a very good manager and very good players trying to reach a normal level. This was a performance to compensate for a lack of confidence and self-esteem. When confidence is not high you lose quality. Tactically we were very disciplined today, especially defensively.”
Sherwood was defiant: “We played on the front foot here at the Bridge, we matched them initially. We believe we’ll stay in this division. I will stand at the front and take the brunt of [the blame]. I don’t want my players shrinking and running into the corners and crying.”