Aston Villa came out with a similar approach to the one that proved successful this weekend. Trying to replicate their Arsenal results, Paul Lambert’s team sat back, absorbed pressure, and set up to play on the counter.
But just like Saturday’s game, Villa gave up a goal within six minutes, Brad Guzan’s block of a Eden Hazard cross going off Antonio Luna and into his own net. With Chelsea exerting a patient, constrained control throughout the half, Villa were rarely given a chance to equalize and were sent into intermission down, 1-0.
As half time approached, it appeared Lambert needed to change it up. Chelsea have enough talent to break down Villa without throwing people forward, which means central defenders John Terry and Gary Cahill are always protected by a fullback (usually Branislav Ivanovic) and at least one central midfielder (Frank Lampard or Ramires). Often, as Chelsea work through the middle third, both central midfielders are behind Christian Benteke, Villa’s most advanced forward. Particularly having scored an early goal, Chelsea were more than willing to trade urgency for control.
Then, with Villa’s first shot on goal, the game was even, and as was the case this weekend, Gabriel Agbonlahor did the work. Breaking down the right side of Chelsea’s defense, the Villa captain played a ball into the middle of the area in the third minute of injury time, the Belgian international having dropped away from Gary Cahill. After a touch to lift the ball and a second to shoot it, Benteke beat Petr Cech to give Villa a surprise equalizer against the run of play.
Chelsea had 70 percent of the half’s possession. They outshot Villa six to three – two to one in shots on goal. Yet as we often see when one team is so committed to counter attacking soccer, those advantages proved irrelevant. Villa are even at halftime.
They are, however, down another defender. Republic of Ireland international Ciaran Clark was starting for the injured Nathan Baker, but having suffered a cut on his head toward the end of the half, Clark had to be removed. With Jores Okore, Aston Villa are down to their fourth choice center back.