In a week when Chelsea’s injury list could easily be mistaken for their starting XI, a rejuvenated Aston Villa held Carlo Ancelotti’s table toppers to a goalless stalemate.
After an explosive end-to-end opening, Chelsea’s first half showing petered into nothing more than a fractious display lacking any real direction. The French trio of Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda and Gael Kakuta failed to impose themselves on Villa’s formidable back-line and with a genuine reluctance to deliver a cross in Didier Drogba’s absence, the Blues struggled to find their usual irresistible rhythm.
Kakuta in particular had a torrid first half of football at a ground where Chelsea have won just once in 11 previous attempts. Instead of showcasing the massive wealth of talent at his disposal, the starlet instead demonstrated his immaturity – losing the ball on the edge of his own penalty area on two separate occasions and relying on his teammates – most notably Branislav Ivanovic – to bail him out. Kakuta was eventually hauled off at half time, calling an end to a hugely disappointing outing for the Frenchman.
After the break – presumably with the manager’s half time dressing down still ringing in their ears – Chelsea started brightly, but a pair of Anelka strikes in anger were as close as the visitors came to breaking the deadlock. Wave after wave of Blue assaults crashed against a Claret wall – Ivanovic’s thundering header against Brad Freidel’s post all but summing up Chelsea’s frustration – but with little more than Yuri Zhirkov and four teenagers on the bench, Ancelotti was clearly short of options.
Josh McEachran continued his much-publicised integration into the first team with a string of lavish touches and a cute dummy, but can count himself extremely fortunate not to be punished by Nigel Reo-Coker when he lost possession in the dying moments.
That said, Chelsea could and should have performed a smash and grab of their own had Anelka been able to record his 50th goal in Blue moments earlier. The nomadic striker has never reached the milestone for any of his previous clubs and will be disappointed not to have snatched all three points for the West Londoners.
Following a tepid media row between a certain Premier League player and a host of top-flight bosses, FIFA have called on the FA to clamp down on what they are describing as “criminal” tackles. Villa youngster Ciaran Clark will count his lucky stars he managed to escape with just a yellow when he went in both high and late on Anelka, referee Lee Mason giving Richard Dunne’s replacement the benefit of the doubt.
Would a dismissal have affected the final out come? Doubtful. Chelsea cannot rely on second half showings to earn results in a 90 minute game. An over reliance on Drogba cannot be allowed to fester even in Frank Lampard’s prolonged absence and if Ancelotti is to retain the Premier League title in his second season at Stamford Bridge, capitalising on Manchester United’s collapses against lower league opposition is essential.
19 Ferreira – 26 Terry – 2 Ivanovic – 3 Cole
5 Essien – 12 Mikel – 7 Ramires
44 Kakuta – 39 Anelka – 15 Malouda
45 – 18 Zhirkov on for 44 Kakuta
75 – 17 Bosingwa on for 19 Ferreira
76 – 46 McEachran on for 7 Ramires