22 August 2013
Chelsea's cracks were papered over on Wednesday as Kevin Friend, and his linesman, bailed Chelsea out on three separate occasions. Those three decisions allowed Chelsea to edge out an uncomfortable 2-1 victory over Aston Villa.
It was obvious that Aston Villa had their 8-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge last season fresh on their mind as they started the game way too tentatively. Villa's defenders backed off way too much, and paid the price for it six minutes in. Hazard's effort towards goal was placed in a place where Brad Guzan had no choice but to parry it. That was because Luna was too close to Guzan for him to stretch out to make the save. This resulted in Guzan parrying the ball off Luna's chest, and into the back of the net.
Once Villa went down, they're midfield and defenders got a better grip of the game. However, it wouldn't have appeared to be the case. Aston Villa were woeful on the ball in the first half, lucky to have the ball for more than four touches. What they did do to Chelsea though, was keep the midfield from making bending balls in to Demba Ba. With no appearance of another plan of attack, Chelsea were rendered to short passes in the slim glimmer of hope of finding one cutting pass that was never going to come. In fact, it could easily be argued that Ba's best touch of the game didn't come until the 48th minute, and he failed to even set up to shoot on goal. Aston Villa's defense weren't exactly the most fluidly shaped, but they were able to target the one man Chelsea were intending to find. With Chelsea's midfield unable to get further forward into the attack, it slowly allowed Aston Villa to get into the game.
Chelsea were also guilty of shutting down in first half stoppage time. Jose Mourinho had to be the angriest person at the Bridge as Guzan lulled his players into a false sense of security. This allowed Villa to settle, and spring Agbonlahor down the wing. Ivanovic was a mere spectator as Agbonlahor's cross found Benteke. What Benteke did to finish this chance was pure genius. Benteke first spotted John Terry looking noncommittal in closing him down: he then saw Petr Cech already leaning far post, leaving a yard of space open on the near post. Benteke did all of this when while setting his first touch to settle the ball, and then firing near post to equalize right on the stroke of halftime.
Villa's equalizer gave them a much needed confidence boost coming out for the second half. A higher line was played that immediately frustrated Chelsea's midfield. Combined with better ball retention and passing, and it wasn't long before Villa was the better looking team on the pitch. Two efforts in two minutes from Benteke (just over), and Weimann (just saved by Cech) showed how much more lethal Villa were looking in attack. This sprung Jose into finally subbing Ba off for Lukaku, and even then the game only went from fully in Villa's favor to being an even contest.
We then enter the time period where Kevin Friend and his assistants screwed Aston Villa, and gifted Chelsea this match.
1) 70th minute. This is when Kevin Friend wrongfully kept Ivanovic on the pitch. The elbow Ivanovic landed on Benteke's throat was even more stupider than Steven Taylor's forearm through the back of Aguero's forehead. Looking live, I thought it was red. On replay after seeing the yellow card, I actually felt for Villa. If this was any other game, the defender is sent off. I'll never know how Friend came to the conclusion that wasn't a red card offense.
2) 73rd minute. On a Lampard free kick after a foul on Lukaku, Ivanovic is offside at the point of contact. While that is no excuse for Lowton and Benteke to not even make a play on the ball in, the linesman should have flagged for offside. If I am able to spot the decision from a long camera angle, the linesman has to be able to spot that standing in line with play. Between the Villa line not going up on Ivanovic, and Guzan not being positioned well, it allowed the man who should have been sent off three minutes earlier to pick his spot on the header towards goal.
3) 93rd minute. After Villa pressed for goal, and Chelsea creating chances on the counter, none of the referees spotted an obvious John Terry handball. On a ball played in by Delph, Agbonlahor's header was handled by John Terry in the penalty area. Despite the close proximity between header and when the ball was handled, the referee failed to call the obvious penalty decision. I'm not buying the excuse that the referee didn't call the penalty because of how close the offense took place to when the ball was headed. Had he not handled the ball, an Aston Villa chance on goal would not have been denied.
Aston Villa looks like they are going to be a contender for at least a Europa League spot. Despite a couple of knocks to some defenders, Okore looks like a very steady defender. They have plenty of fire power up front, and their shape will frustrate any team they play. Chelsea have a problem, and that's Jose Mourinho has to start Lukaku if they want any chance of serious title contention. Teams will quickly catch on to pressing Chelsea from the off and not conceding easy yards early in games. Torres and Ba do not look like players who fit this Chelsea system. Lukaku is the only forward who has effectively got Chelsea's midfield into their strongest forward positions. Their early starts have masked alot of their deficiencies, and those paper thin cracks could easily be ripped open this upcoming Monday night if Manchester United play even half as good as they did against Swansea City.