Never an easy place to go, Villa, as our record over the last ten matches shows. Yet with two strikes of the woodwork in the second half, should we have come away with all three points?
The team lined up as Ancelotti had stated a day before kick-off, with options for changes limited at best due to the withdrawal of Didier Drogba due to a virus, Lampard still not recovering from his hernia op, and Alex, Benayoun, Kalou and Sturridge all either injured, or not match fit.
So it was left to those who were able to play and a smattering of youth players on the bench to try and do what many teams before them had failed to do, and that was take three points at Villa park.
Chelsea lined up in their familiar 4-3-3 with Gael Kakuta getting his first league start up front with Anelka and Malouda, supported by Mikel, Essien and Ramires in the middle. Terry played, despite a stiff back, as did Ashley Cole, obviously not feeling any effects from a nasty tackle whilst on England duty.
The game certainly started lively enough with Villa looking to get some joy down our right hand side, with Ferreira at right back and Ivanovic in the middle, it could have been a much tougher challenge had Stephen Ireland made the most of a Villa break in the opening minutes as Downing’s played a ball through for the Irishman, who could only chip it wide past the onrushing Petr Cech.
However it was Chelsea who then took the ascendancy and started to play with purpose and possession. This wasn’t to last however, as once the opening five minutes had passed, both teams seemed to settle into a lethargic style of play, with neither really finding any rhythm or purpose to their play, with many missed passes and wayward shots.
Cech was called upon to make a couple of saves, one of them fingertip and preventing a certain goal, and at the other end Essien, Kakuta and Malouda all had trouble keeping shots on target, not even testing the Villa keeper.
Half time came and went, and we all hoped for a more entertaining second half, and it duly came. A switch saw Kakuta replaced by Zhirkov and Chelsea were on the attack, with far more fluidity and intent than had been shown in the previous half.
Anelka should have done better after a counter attack saw some lovely play, but the Frenchman shot high and wide, and Ivanovic was denied a goal when his brilliant header from a corner struck the woodwork and bounced to safety.
In the final ten minutes Chelsea stepped up a gear and had Villa camped in their own half, and with only two minutes left a floated cross from the left saw Anelka beat his man but header into the ground, and the ball bounced up onto the crossbar and away to safety.
There were however some positives, namely that we came away with one point more than last season with a weakened team, and also the return of Bosingwa, after almost exactly a year out of the game. McEachran also looked impressive, continuing to raise his stock amongst blues supporters, and neutrals alike.
Ancelotti spoke after the match; “We didn’t start so well, we conceded two chances to score on the counter attack, we wanted to start differently. Second half was very good, we played very well. We tried to score but weren’t able to score.”
The Italian added; “We showed in the second half we deserved to win but Aston Villa played a good game, had some chances to score and for this reason the score was fair. We knew it was a difficult game, it is a difficult atmosphere here. Last year we lost, this year we did better. It was a good result for us at this point of the season, we maintained top of the league.”
Speaking of his depleted squad, he said; “All the players with injuries are important players but the players who played today played a good game, everyone did their best. I am not complaining about the injury of my players. But I think Kalou, Sturridge and Alex will be able to play on Tuesday.”
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira (Bosingwa 76), Ivanovic, Terry (c), Cole; Essien, Mikel, Ramires (McEachran 76), Kakuta (Zhirkov h-t), Anelka, Malouda.