Christian Pulisic came off the bench to play his part and Olivier Giroud was on target as the Blues recovered from a half-time deficit to win on a historic occasion, our first-ever competitive game behind closed doors.
The three points, which strengthened our position in the top four, were well-deserved on the balance of play, and it was hard to believe we had gone behind at the end of a first half in which we had created chances and enjoyed over three-quarters of the possession.
With the Blues trailing 1-0 with an hour gone, captain Cesar Azpilicueta was also a major player in the turnaround as he supplied the assists for two goals in three minutes, the first a cross for the American to score with a volley, the second a pass into the French centre-forward to finish on the turn.
Villa keeper Orjan Nyland made several saves to prevent other Chelsea players from scoring, primarily the lively pair of Willian and Mason Mount, while although not completely untroubled, Kepa had little to do. In the 43rd minute and and having saved a shot initially, he was beaten by Villa’s Kortney Hause for the opening goal of the game.
Just before the match began there was a minute’s silence for all those who have passed away due to the COVID-19 pandemic, followed straightaway afterwards by the players taking the knee, as has been the case at all Premier League games since the restart – a symbol of support for the Black Lives Matter protests.
Those messages were further reinforced today by the words Black Lives Matter on the back of the kit where player names would usually be, plus badges on the shirts for that campaign and in recognition of the work of the NHS in countering the pandemic.
So just how rusty would the Chelsea team be after three months off, playing a team that at least had one match under their belt, played four days earlier on this ground?
It was a fair start to the half by the Blues and we got better later in it, only to suffer late on.
In those opening minutes, Willian, after a run inside from the right, had a shot blocked while the home side were reliant on set-pieces for their attacks into our area and it took until 20 minutes for either goal to be properly threatened.
That was when Mason Mount, finding some space outside of the area, struck the ball with plenty of power but Nyland, diving to his left, saved very well with one hand in front of the empty Holte End.
Upping our game
That was the cue for the Blues turn up the pace and the pressure, interrupted briefly by the now regulatory drinks break midway through the half.
Willian flashed a ball across the face of the Villa goal with a stretching Giroud making a vain attempt to apply the crucial touch, and Mount again extended Nyland.
The Villa keeper was less secure when the ball span away from his palms moments later but it was panic over when he grabbed it before it could cross the line. Then it was time for Kepa to make his first save of the game with just over half-an-hour played, Anwar El Ghazi the Villa player denied.
Most of Chelsea’s openings were being generated down our right and when Mount wriggled his way through and crossed low to the far post five minutes before half-time, it looked certain the deadlock would be broken, but Loftus-Cheek, like Giroud earlier, could not quite reach it.
Instead it was Villa who went 1-0 up, and completely against the run of play when Chelsea’s far-post defending was found wanting.
Douglas Luiz was the player who delivered the cross there, and it was a good one, but we had allowed two players to escape the marking. Although Kepa was able to keep out the initial effort by El Ghazi, Hause was quick to pounce and turn the loose ball in.
Alonso had a volley blocked and Kovacic was not far away with a 20-yarder before half-time but somehow we went in behind.
We were facing a defensive Villa side even before the goal but this was now increasingly the case and Frank Lampard waited only 10 minutes after the restart to make a double switch – Barkley and Pulisic brought on for Kovacic and Loftus-Cheek.
Giroud was frustrated when an Azpilicueta near-post cross did not fall where he needed it but with an hour played, another cross from the skipper did do the trick.
This time he sent the ball deeper to the far post where Pulisic, playing his first game since New Year’s Day due to injury, arrived unmarked and volleyed in off the underside of the crossbar.