Even in losing at Chelsea on Wednesday, Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa showed why many people fancy them to finish in the top half of the Premier League this season, with another vibrant display which deserved at least a point. But in the end they were left ruing refereeing decisions that had not gone their way.
Christian Benteke was Villa’s standout player, with an all-action performance that highlighted how important it was for the club to keep him this summer. In addition to his wonderful goal right on half-time, the Belgian was a constant threat to the Blues defence, and he invariably made something happen whenever he was on the ball.
In scoring the equaliser, after Antonio Luna’s unfortunate seventh minute own goal had given the home side the lead, Benteke reinforced his status as one of the most clinical strikers in the Premier League with a precise finish.
Benteke was also involved in arguably the biggest talking point of the match, when he was struck by Branislav Ivanovic’s flailing arm. Ivanovic got away with just a yellow card, and then went on to score the winner, heading home a free-kick, somewhat against the run of play in the second-half.
Lambert was furious about that, and also spoke out against the decision not to award his side a stoppage time penalty for a handball by John Terry, going as far as to claim that the spot-kick would have been given had the incident taken place at the other end.
Villa definitely had their chances aside from that, however, with Benteke proving a nuisance for the Chelsea defence throughout. And although he is not known for his assists the 22-year-old brilliantly set up strike partner Andreas Weimann on two occasions, but for goalkeeper Petr Cech to deny him both times.
So close to losing Benteke during the summer, Lambert talked him into reversing his transfer request and the striker displayed why retaining his services was so valuable for Villa. With encouraging performances from those around him he will continue to look formidable and pose problems for any defence in the Premier League.
And after two games away to Champions League clubs three points is a respectable haul, and the two performances illustrate how far Villa have come since their last visit to Stamford Bridge where they were outclassed and beaten 8-0. Lambert has turned Villa into a very competitive side.
The only worry after the first two Premier League games are the injuries sustained by two central defenders. Nathan Baker was taken off at Arsenal on Saturday and his replacement Ciaran Clark was injured at Chelsea. Clark was replaced by new signing Jores Okore, who looked solid on his competitive debut for the club. It leaves Okore and Ron Vlaar the only available central defenders at the club.
But Benteke was the star on Wednesday evening, emphasising his importance to the side. After his excellent start to the new season he is sure to receive a favourable reception from the supporters when he takes to the field for Villa’s first home game of the new season, against Liverpool on Saturday.
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