Villa lose to Chelsea as Dave Woodhall wonders what comes next.
After all the speculation concerning the match being called off it was ironic that Villa started with John McGinn seemingly the only Covid casualty, in addition to the usual long-term injuries and Steven Gerarrard in isolation. In his place Morgan Sansom was in the team, with Bertrand Traore and Trezeguet returning to the bench, although the pessimists amongst us could have pointed out that we’ve already had an example of trying to replace one player with three this season, and it hasn’t exactly been a success. Talking of limited success, Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings were also starting together, which seemed a triumph of hope over experience.
As is often the case, Villa started well and although the goal that put them into the lead was a bit fortunate, going a goal up was certainly deserved. A glancing header that the keeper could only push into the net was perfectyl placed and een if it was a Chelsea defender’s head, credit to Matt Targett for putting the corss over so dangerously.
Unfortunately that was the high point of the match. Six minutes later Matty Cash put in a challenge when he didn’t have to and there was no doubt about either the penalty decision or the way it was taken. You just knew from then on what was going to happen. You also knew that £90 million strikers don’t stay on the bench all match and Lukaku proved the difference between the two teams. He brushed off Tyrone Mings to the ball and that was it. Anwar el Ghazi and Bertrand Traore came on in an attempt to get something from the match, as did Carney Chukwuemeka, but yet again when they were trying to get something back Villa were too easy to defend against.
The third goal came as Villa were chasing a game which by then was already out of range. Konsa brought down Lukaku, another penalty and Villa’s run of Boxing Day wins was over.
We didn’t really learn much from the afternoon, particuarly with the heart of the side’s midfield missing. To beat a team of Chelsea’s ability and, more importantly, such strength in depth every player had to be on top form and instead too many had an off-day; whether that’s down to not being fully fit or not having had the chance to train properly we shall never know. Neither do we know how much effect Gerrard’s absence had – and if he was in communication with his coaching staff, well done to them on getting a signal inside Villa Park.
Under Gerrard Villa have played the top three teams, with a record of lost two, robbed one and beaten everyone else we’ve faced without too much trouble, which shows as the year ends that we’re still in with a shout of top six with the right January investment and the sort of luck with injuries that we’ve not enjoyed for a few years. And talking of new signings there are a few players we have to look at and wonder whether they’re capable of further improvement or else should be thanked for their service and moved on. 2021 has been a bit inconsistent, to put it mildly. The next twelve months could again be interesting ones.