Aston Villa: After a very unsuccessful 3-5-2 against Stoke last week, Tim Sherwood reverted to a 4-2-3-1 which became a 4-5-1 in defence. It was quite an attacking line-up, featuring Jordan Ayew in his first start since the first game of the season, though he was on the left, as well as Jack Grealish and Carles Gil, the most creative playmakers in the Villa side. The other big choice was to choose Kieran Richardson at left-back over Jordan Amavi, to shore up the defence.
Chelsea: Injuries and recent poor performance led to a different line-up from José Mourinho though still in the classic 4-2-3-1. The 19 year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek was started as the central attacking midfielder directly supporting Diego Costa. With Branislav Ivanovic out due to injury the full-backs were shuffled as well, with Cesar Azpilicueta playing on his natural right side while £21.7 million summer signing Abul Rahman Baba made his Premier League debut at left-back.
First-half: Villa's hard work thrown away
Villa's pressing dominates the first half hour: Sherwood had mentioned the need to work on fitness before the international break and it was evident that Villa had been working on their pressing game as they pushed an out of sorts Chelsea hard for the first 30 minutes. The front four hustled well, with bite provided by Idrissa Gana from deep.
When Villa got the ball, it was Grealish who was dominating proceedings, ghosting past Fabregas and Ramires into his preferred space on the left, where Azpilicueta couldn't handle him. He had four successful take-ons in the first half, three down that left side. Over on the right Baba Rahman looked distinctly shaky and as Gil drifted inside, Alan Hutton began to make use of the space and overpowered his much more expensive opponent but wasted the subsequent chance with poor delivery.
The early pressure climaxed when Ayew wriggled past Azpilicueta and got an early pass into Rudy Gestede who did well to slide in ahead of John Terry and get a foot on the ball and was unlucky to see the shot skew over the bar. It had been the best half an hour from Villa since the Leicester game, led by Grealish in the centre, but this side seems permanently set to "self-destruct mode".
Guzan and Lescott destroy everything: All the tactical analysis in the world can't help stupid errors and boy was this one a whopper. Brad Guzan had a basic clearance to make in the 33rd minute, but apparently the left-footed keeper has not learned how to use his right foot over his long career and hit it far too hard at Joleon Lescott with Willian lurking behind him. Lescott compounded the error, failing to trap it, was robbed and outpaced by Willian who simply laid it off to Costa to score. A deflated Villa saw the rest of the half out meekly.
Second-half: Early Chelsea goal exposes Villa limitations
Chelsea build a wall, Villa can't knock it down: The game essentially ended on 53 minutes, where after a reasonably even opening stage, Ramires won a big challenge against Richardson and laid the ball onto Fabregas who curved a nice ball into Diego Costa running down the left. He cut inside Micah Richards (who again went too easily to ground) but was then confronted by Hutton who had done well to cover. Costa's shot deflected flukily off Hutton and looped into the goal. Sometimes bad luck just gets you.
After that there was really nothing happening. Not even this Mourinho Chelsea will throw away a 2 goal lead. At half-time Mourinho had taken off Loftus-Cheek and replaced him with Nemanja Matic, allowing the Chelsea defence to back off Gestede and defend deep. Grealish faded completely out of the game, not helped by a lenient referee who failed to show a yellow card to Ramires for his accumulation of fouls.
Villa's attack is lopsided but Amavi and Adama can't fix it: Certain problems with Villa's formation also became apparent. Ayew worked hard but still looked misplaced on the left despite having created Villa's biggest chance of the game. He ended up with only 1 out of 7 attempted take-ons successful. With Grealish also looking to go left, and Gil drifting centrally, there was also a real lack of width on the right. It would have been nice to see what Ayew could have done against the shaky Baba Rahman on the other wing early on in the game rather than having only Hutton on that side.
Sherwood recognised the issues and made the sensible changes, bringing on Amavi on for Richardson to try and get more crosses into Gestede and Adama Traoré in for Ayew to try and get more threat on the right. Unfortunately both showed why their potential outstrips their current performance, racking up 2 successful and 5 failed take-ons between them, while Adama made two passes, both backwards. Baba Rahman seemingly increased in confidence during the game and was being helped out by the Chelsea midfield.
There were essentially no other changes to be made. Perhaps a ball-winning central midfielder might have helped push the attack forward more, but it´s hard to believe that Chelsea were going to throw it away.
Conclusion - This one's not on Sherwood, but it might signal the end
There are some tactical quibbles to made with the way Sherwood set up for this match. Villa were too heavily tilted towards the left and Ayew was played out of position for a long time. Perhaps Carles Gil could replace Ashley Westwood in deep midfielder after the latter´s poor performance. That might allow Ayew to go out to the right and a more natural left-sided player to come in on that side.
But this loss can't really be blamed on him. For half an hour Villa were on top, playing a good pressing game and had just created their biggest opportunity of the match, before Guzan and Lescott combined to blow it up. The second goal was just plain unlucky. When things aren't going for you, they really aren't going for you.
Against Swansea, a similar set-up might make sense, hopefully minus Lescott and perhaps Guzan as well. Grealish above all must remain central while Ayew deserves to get another start. However after such a terrible start to the season, even a win is unlikely to lift the clouds over Villa Park.
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