A stubborn display for the Villains ensured that they resisted a formally free scoring Chelsea team to secure a hard fought nil-nil draw.
In Gerard Houllier’s first home league match as manager the Frenchman altered the system Villa have employed for much of the season. On Saturday Villa’s formation looked more like a traditional 4-2-3-1, with Stephen Ireland playing ahead of Nigel Reo-Coker and Stylian Petrov. Presumably an alteration conceived to match up with Chelsea’s central midfield trio of Michael Essien, John Mikel Obi and Ramires. The most interesting adjustment saw Villa’s stand out player so far this season, Ashley Young, move from playing off the striker to the wide left position. With Stuart Downing playing down the right both ‘inverted wingers’ looked to come inside when in possession.
Aston Villa started the better of the two sides. John Carew did a good job of occupying Chelsea’s centre backs, and Ireland had success running beyond Mikel. The Irishman had a great chance to put the Villain’s ahead early on in the game but his shot screwed just wide of the post.
The Villain’s were successful in stifling Chelsea’s midfield. With the absence of Frank Lampard, Essien and Ramires struggled to replicate the Englishman’s creativity in the centre of the park. Most of the creative burden fell on Florent Malouda who struggled until the introduction of Yuri Zhirkov. The Russian gave Chelsea more width and created more space for Malouda and Ashley Cole to play.
Throughout the game both sides had opportunities to score; Branislav Ivanovic hit the woodwork and Anelka headed over late on. Even as the game progressed in the second half and Aston Villa’s attacking forays became less frequent they too created chances; Reo-Coker broke through late on but was only able to dink the ball wide tamely.
On a different day either side could have won the game. After the game Carlo Ancelotti stated “We didn’t start so well and gave Villa a couple of good chances, but in the second half we played very well…The way we played in the second half we deserved to win, but Villa did well in the first half, so a draw is fair.”
The absence of Lampard and Didier Drogba was felt by the usually potent Chelsea attack. That said it was a strong performance from the Villa defence, particularly having lost Richard Dunne to injury early on. It has been an encouraging start for Houllier, despite being out gunned by Tottenham last week it seems that the Villain’s are continuing to play well. However questions remain as to how Houllier will ensure all Villa’s stars to fit into their favoured positions.
23 Beye – 29 Collins – 5 Dunne – 3 Warnock
20 Reo-Coker – 19 Petrov
6 Downing – 9 Ireland – 7 Young
13 min 21 Clark on for 5 Dunne, 74 min 14 Delfouneso on for 10 Carew, 84 min 4 Sidwell on for 9 Ireland