Villa lose to Chelsea but Dave Woodhall isn’t downhearted.
Stamford Bridge is a place where you travel more in hope than expectation, particularly when you’ve had the sort of start to the season Villa have ‘enjoyed’. Dean Smith once talked about how he winds down by walking his dog but it’s black cats he must have annoyed a few times give the events that have plagued us in recent months. Injuries, that transfer, Covid and now the farcical situation of our Argentinians under house arrest. It’s not ideal preparation for a visit to the Champions League winners and hot favourites to finish runner-up in the Premier League.
To put it into context, Chelsea had two midfielders out injured – one who had cost £58 million and the other a current World Cup winner. They replaced them with a player signed during the summer from the Spanish champions and an England international. Villa were missing two quarantined internationals. Their replacements were a keeper who hadn’t made a Premier League appearance for six years and a loan signing from Manchester United reserves. Chelsea also had the small matter of a £97 million signing making his debut, a player who had been bought to replace an underperforming £50 million signing.
Three-nil was probably about the scoreline most would have predicted before kick-off. How the Villa played in the circumstances wasn’t. Five at the back was a bit of a surprise, and Villa took to the new formation well, having Chelsea in a few problems for much of the first half despite going a goal down after twenty minutes courtesy of the second-most inevitable scorer of the day.
Yet still Villa continued to give as good as they got and had plenty of chances for an equaliser. In fact, they had given Chelsea such a hard time that the Spanish international was taken off at half-time, to be replaced by another £58 million signing, this time the Uefa Player of the Year. I appreciate that I’m labouring the point a bit but this is what Villa are up against when we play the elite teams, ad will be for a few more years to come.
Then shortly after the restart Tyrone Mings’ mistake led to Chelsea’s second. And still Villa kept pressing, out of luck and with the added disadvantage of playing the referee as well as one of the most expensively-assembled teams in history. Jed Steer had a quieter afternoon than his multi-million pound counterpart yet had to pick the ball out of the back of the net three times, the third coming late on after another unenforced error.
I always say that the occasional defeat is acceptable provided you learn from them and they don’t become a habit. Villa can certainly learn from this one; a bit more self-belief and sharpness in front of goal and we can start getting something from games like this. We will certainly, if you’ll excuse another cliche, play a lot worse and win while Chelsea will have easier days against sides who can finish above us this season. Leon Bailey looks a rare talent; he and Bertrand Traore will worry more than a few defenders before long.
Without going too far down the path of moral victories and accepting defeats as inevitable, Villa did all they realistically could at Stamford Bridge. They battled throughout and for long stretches of the game Chelsea’s ludicrously-expensive side had to be at full stretch to cope. Despite the scoreline there was much to take from it.