Chelsea took full advantage of a slip up by title rivals Manchester City to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table with a win at Aston Villa on Saturday. Goals from Eden Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic gave the visitors the three points, while Jores Okore scored Villa’s first league goal in 11 hours, which was at least some consolation to the home fans.
Chelsea came into the game without their top scorer Diego Costa, who was serving the second of his three game suspension. It was Didier Drogba was the man who was chosen to lead the line, while Loic Remy had to settle for a place on the bench. Alongside Remy was Juan Cuadrado, the deadline day signing from Fiorentina.
It was well publicised before the game that Jose Mourinho was still waiting for his first win at Villa Park, but his side made the perfect start here as they came flying out of the traps. It was Hazard who gave the Blues the lead within eight minutes. Just days after winger Cuadrado arrived, it was the two first choice wide men who showed their quality early on here. Oscar found space and he fed Willian, who spotted the run of Hazard, and he set up the Belgian who opened the scoring with a deft finish.
That was the only goal of the first half, which gave Chelsea a significant advantage against the goal-shy home side. The Villains lacked a cutting edge for a while, and without their first choice striker, Christian Benteke, few gave them much of a chance of getting back into this one. But, as their goal drought stretched to 659 minutes, they produced an equaliser just minutes into the second half. New signing Carles Gil was in brilliant form all day, and it was his ball that set up Okore’s header which brought Villa level.
At this point it looked like Mourinho would be set for another disappointing trip to Villa Park, and it gave the home side all kinds of confidence. They took control of the game for the next few minutes, but the Blues managed to soon get back in control of affairs. Willian went close twice, but it was a surprising combination that led to Chelsea’s winner.
Cesar Azpilicueta troubled the Villa defence with his run into the box from the left flank, and his ball found fellow full back Ivanovic just inside the box. The Serbian caught the ball on the volley and fired home for his fifth goal in his last six starts against Aston Villa.
That result, coupled with the fact that Manchester City could only manage a 1-1 draw against Hull at the Etihad, meant Chelsea extended their lead to seven points at the top of the table, making this a crucial day in the title race. That’s given the Blues a strong lead at the top, and with City going to Stoke on Wednesday night, things might just get worse for the second placed side.
LCN Man of the Match: Branislav Ivanovic