The Blues edged over the line to claim fourth place in the Premier League despite defeat on a dramatic and tense final day of the domestic season.
Champions League participation is assured for next season ahead of playing in the final next weekend although for periods of Sunday afternoon, Thomas Tuchel’s team were down to fifth place.
A goal scored by former Chelsea player Bertrand Traore from a corner shortly before half-time put our top-four hopes very much in peril. At the interval we were still in the Champions League qualification places but only just and the outlook darkened when Anwar El Ghazi made it 2-0 from the penalty spot and scores at Liverpool and Leicester were not going our way. We had also lost Edouard Mendy to a rib injury.
The Blues had done the bulk of the attacking in the first half without creating clear chances but one did arrive with 20 minutes left to play and we scored it, via the boot of Ben Chilwell to make it 2-1.
There the scoring ended but close to the end Cesar Azpilicueta was shown a straight red card. It will not prevent him playing in Porto however, where despite this loss, we can now play knowing the Champions League trophy is the sole prize up for grabs, with no need to win for qualification reasons as well.
There was only one change from the side that secured three precious points against Leicester midweek. N’Golo Kante came off in that game, concerned about injuring a hamstring should he continue, and he was not ready to resume today so Mateo Kovacic, who replaced him against the Foxes, continued in midfield.
Ahead of kick-off today, Tuchel reported he hopes Kante will join full training on Wednesday to be ready for Saturday.
Reece James continued in the back-three position he filled in the consecutive games against Leicester with Cesar Azpilicueta again at right wing-back.
Chelsea came into the game knowing a win would guarantee us a third-place finish but a draw could potentially leave us without Champions League qualification through our league position, should Liverpool and Leicester both win.
As it was, the first half left us in a losing position albeit one that was unjustified by the overall balance of the play with Tuchel’s men clearly the better side in open play.
The early incidents in the game centred around Jorginho, who first made an important tackle as Villa launched the first attack, and was then floored by a contact from Jack Grealish which earned the home side’s skipper a lecture from the ref, one repeated after another foul later in the half.
Mason Mount fired wide when the Blues had our first opening and our Player of the Year had another shot blocked at the start of a good spell of pressure, with Chelsea finding space in wide areas with regularity.
Chilwell, on the right following a set-piece, had a volleying chance but fired into the turf which made the save comfortable for Emiliano Martinez, as it was for Edou Mendy at the other end soon after when Traore went for goal.
Werner had a poke from distance saved and Pulisic could not connect with enough power with a bicycle effort, so we reached the midway point of the first half with the score 0-0 but Chelsea looking like we had a goal in us.
Villa come into it
Unfortunately, Mount could not adjust his body shape sufficiently to hit the target soon after when Azpi on the by-line volleyed a Jorginho pass back across goal.
That was as well as we had opened up the Villa rearguard in the first half but soon after that moment, Villa shot wide twice in the space of two minutes, the first rather tamely by Traore and the second with more intent from John McGinn after he dispossessed Kovacic.
As a result, the home fans in all four stands increased the noise levels and they were eventually rewarded with a goal two minutes before half-time.
It came from a corner routine and one at which our players were caught off-guard when Matt Targett passed it to the edge of the box and Traore who did not strike it as he intended, but nevertheless did enough to send the ball past Mendy via the underside of the crossbar.
With 1-0 the half-time score, Liverpool winning at Anfield and Leicester being held at home by Spurs, it was only our goal difference which was superior to the Foxes by two goals at that which was keeping us in the top four. The pressure was truly on.
Mendy had collided with the post when trying to prevent the goal and he did not come out for the second half.
Kepa replaced him and very soon faced a penalty but not before a chance for Pulisic who shinned Werner’s pass wide disappointingly.
The spot-kick that increased the deficit was given away by Jorginho’s foul on Traore and it was confidently converted by El Ghazi meaning we were 2-0 down with 52 minutes of the game played. The news from Leicester was not good. A penalty there had put the home side in front so we were now in fifth but there was plenty of time left in both games.
Chelsea soon hit the Villa net but Azpilicueta was offside before his shot was saved and Werner put the loose ball in. It always looked to be the case. Hakim Ziyech was brought on during the VAR check and Kai Havertz followed him onto the pitch soon after.
Closing the gap
There were 20 minutes left on the clock when Chilwell pulled a goal back, sending it over the line after Pulisic had exchanged passes with Ziyech and sent over a deep cross. Martinez clawed the ball out but not in time and goal-line technology ruled in our favour. More good news followed as Tottenham had equalised with Leicester so we were back in the top four.
From that point on, almost all the attacking was done by the Londoners and Chilwell shot identically to his goal but this time there was a Villa player in the way to block near the goal-line.
With two minutes left on the clock, Azpi was dismissed for catching Grealish in the face with his arm but although the Chelsea equaliser did not come, thankfully it was not needed. Liverpool had won 2-0 but Leicester had lost 4-2 to Tottenham so they are the side who end up in fifth, much to our players' relief at Villa Park.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Mendy (Kepa h-t); James, Thiago Silva, Rudiger; Azpilicueta (c), Jorginho (Ziyech 59), Kovacic (Havertz 66), Chilwell; Mount, Pulisic, Werner.
Unused subs Alonso, Christensen, Zouma, Gilmour, Hudson-Odoi, Giroud.
Scorer Chilwell 70
Sent-off Azpilicueta 89
Booked Jorginho 45, Werner 45+2, Kovacic 49, Kepa 90+5
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Konsa, Hause, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Nakamba; Traore (Chukwuemeka 73), Grealish (c), El Ghazi (Ramsey 79); Watkins.
Unused subs Heaton, Taylor, Elmohamady, Douglas, Davis, Philogene-Bidace, Wesley.
Scorers Traore 43, El Ghazi 52 pen
Booked McGinn 64, Nakamba 75, Martinez 81
Referee Stuart Attwell.