A little reality check for
Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this afternoon. A little reminder
that in amongst all the fantasy that surrounds the club
these days, some down-to-earth challenges remain the same.
It doesnt matter how
many delicious goal feasts are enjoyed on our travels
or how easily we smash fragile objects like Tottenham
Hotspur, when teams come to the Bridge all fired up and
determined to work hard and stifle, they will often prove
as hard as ever to break down.
Villas game plan was
clear from the off. Abandoning their usual 4-4-2, they
strung five across the middle in a shape only previously
seen at Highbury this season - and it almost worked.
It certainly ensured scant
entertainment for another forty thousand plus crowd but
had their lone striker done his job, the west midlanders
would have escaped with a draw or even an unlikely win.
But in the end Chelsea came
through safely and it was Old Faithful who
came up with the goods - Jimmy Floyd Hasselbainks
sixth goal of the season separating the teams.
It came just three minutes
before the break, started by Verón who was the
quickest to a loose ball, stabbing it out to Mutu. He
played it in to Lampard who followed a sharp turn with
a sharp shot which Sorensen could only parry into the
path of Hasselbaink. From just yards out, the result was
That the goal would eventually
come had been no certainty, nor did it open the floodgates.
In the opening stages Mutu saw an overhead effort blocked
and then wasted a clear opportunity when let down by his
second touch after being played clear by Lampard.
Then another lofted pass
by Petit found the Romanian who this time was true with
his footwork, controlling well before cracking a yard
or two high and wide.
Duff also went close after
taking on the defence and striking low but such penetration
The central ground was proving
hard to win with Villas numerical advantage showing,
but Chelsea were producing little down the flanks where
space should have been available for exploitation.
Both Duff and Verón
were producing their best touches infield while Wayne
Bridge was finding it difficult to impose himself going
forward. Villa came on strong as the break approached.
The influential Hendrie and
De La Cruz were not a million miles away with efforts
from outside the area but then Jimmys strike settled
Would the game now open up
and Chelseas class begin to show? A sloppy start
the second period didnt bode well with a couple
of scrambled corners but then a flowing move saw Chelsea
Moving the ball straight
through the middle via Lampard and Hasselbaink, Duff was
sent away by a measured pass in front of the defence.
Able to move the ball clear of his marker onto his left,
his low shot was tipped wide by a stretching Sorensen.
Then Villa spurned a gift.
That rarest of things, a sloppy Lampard pass allowed Angel
a clear sight of Cudicinis goal but getting his,
ahem, angles wrong, the Colombian rolled the ball past
the far post. It would not be his only chance.
As the game drifted on, neither
side looked a convincing bet to add to the score sheet.
Changes were needed and it didnt take long for Vassell
to come on for Whittingham to give Villa a more attacking
For Chelsea, Gronkjaer was
thrown into the mix in an attempt to bring a threat to
our wing play, Mutu coming off with Verón moved
to play behind the lone Hasselbaink. There then followed
a straight swap of Makelele for Petit.
Still the second goal failed
to materialise although the home support did liven up
with a bout of sustained singing. Just fifteen minutes
remaining, Verón made way for Joe Cole, the youngsters
arrival greeted by a big cheer.
Within minutes he was sent
away down the right by a Gronkjaer pass played just before
a clattering foul by Samuel (who would be booked). Driving
towards goal, Coles low driven cross was sliced
over the bar by a Villa defender and shortly after a Duff
goalbound effort was deflected wide.
This was better but as at
the end of the first-half, Villa came on strong and with
the points still in balance, the tension began to rise.
In the 88th minute the ball was played in low by De La
Cruz, Dublin inadvertently dummied, and Angel beat Gallas
only to once again fire badly wide with the goal gapping.
There was no time for sighs
of relief as a succession of goalmouth scrambles and corners
followed with even Sorensen joining the attack. But thankfully
Villa wont be invited
into The Beautiful Game Society with displays like this
but they may take some minor comfort from reducing the
home team to our poorest game of the season so far.
Chelsea on the other hand
have just to look at a League record of five wins and
one draw for all the comfort we need. We will play better,
no doubt very soon, and the bottom line is still looking
No damage done.