Analysis

The Debrief: Attacking intent and midfield dominance made us deserved winners over Aston Villa

Penalties can sometimes be described as a lottery, but the statistics show we fully deserved our victory over Aston Villa, even if we needed a shoot-out to complete the job…

After a quiet opening 45 minutes, last night’s Carabao Cup third round tie sparked into life in an entertaining second half, during which Timo Werner gave us the lead by heading in Reece James’ cross, but Villa equalised through a header of their own.

For the second time this season we needed a penalty shoot-out to complete the job, meaning we have a 100 per cent record following the UEFA Super Cup victory over Villarreal, and just like in Belfast, Kepa Arrizabalaga produced a fine save, although the decisive moment fell to James as he fired into the top corner from the spot to seal the win.

There can be little argument that we were deserved winners, though, however that victory was secured. We enjoyed 68 per cent of the possession, playing more than twice as many passes as the visitors (620 to 298) and had 18 shots to Villa’s 10, with only some impressive form from goalkeeper Jed Steer preventing us from finding a winning goal in 90 minutes.

In it to win it

Although it was a relatively even cup tie at Stamford Bridge, it was Chelsea who were showing much of the initiative in possession, particularly in the second half, with Reece James and half-time substitute Mason Mount especially influential as we pushed for a winner after the break.

Despite playing in the back three against Villa, it was noticeable how high James was pushing forward in the second half in a clear sign we were eager to win the tie before penalties, which of course led to James providing a brilliant cross for Werner to score the opening goal.

No player had more than James’ 120 touches on the ball and his 97 per cent passing accuracy was also the highest of the 22 who started the game. That included two of his crosses finding a Chelsea head, the joint most, and no player being more accurate when going direct, with all six of his long passes reaching a team-mate.

It was perhaps Mount who provided the best example of our increased attacking intent after the break, though. Despite only playing 45 minutes, our second-half captain was third for shots taken (two), second for key passes (two), second for successful dribbles (three) and first for number of crosses (six).

Ruben runs the show

It may have been Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s first start for Chelsea in over a year – the last coming in a 3-1 win at Brighton on the opening day of last season – and only his second appearance of the season, following a brief cameo from the bench against Zenit St Petersburg last week, but there were no signs of rustiness from the midfielder.

Taking up the deep position in our midfield, he looked determined to make things happen throughout the match, as shown by his three key passes being the most of any player on the pitch. He was also an important outlet as we kept possession in our passing game, with his 57 passes the joint-highest outside of our back three, along with Callum Hudson-Odoi.

It wasn’t just his distribution that gave Villa problems, either, as the visiting midfielders struggled to deal with his bursts forward through the middle in possession. His five attempted dribbles were the joint highest on the pitch, again with Hudson-Odoi, and even more impressively Ruben did so with a 100 per cent success rate.

His height and physicality in midfield also proved useful against Aston Villa, at both ends of the pitch, as he won two aerial duels each in defensive and attacking positions. No Chelsea player surpassed that defensive figure and only Trevoh Chalobah (four) won more attacking duels.

Kepa saves the day

Kepa Arrizabalaga was undoubtedly one of the heroes of our victory after having a big hand in the shoot-out win, literally, by keeping out Marvelous Nakamba’s spot-kick at a crucial time, putting us two ahead with three of the five penalties taken.

He also showed his worth during the 90 minutes, though, performing admirably again during Edouard Mendy’s enforced absence through injury. In total, the Spaniard made five saves against Aston Villa during the match itself.

Only once this season has a Chelsea goalkeeper made more saves, and that was with 10 men against Liverpool at Anfield, a game which also ended 1-1 after Mendy’s six saves.

It wasn’t just in keeping out the opposition that Kepa was on form last night, either, as his passing accuracy of 91.9 per cent wouldn’t be sniffed at by an outfield player, let alone a goalkeeper – even if our precise passing game means he was one of five Blues in the 90s on that statistic – showing his ability with the ball at his feet. His 37 successful passes were also more than four outfield members of our starting line-up – N’Golo Kante, Saul, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner – as well as half-time substitute Mason Mount managed.

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