It was Christmas cheer for Chelsea in the Midlands as we came back from going a goal down to take three points and stay in touch with the league leaders, with substitute Romelu Lukaku coming on to score between two Jorginho penalties.
The game was lively Boxing Day fare with Jorginho’s first spot-kick ensuring the first half finished all-square, after Reece James had scored an own goal when a cross diverted in off the top of the wing-back’s head.
The penalty that made the score 1-1 was awarded for a foul on Callum Hudson-Odoi, back in a league starting line-up for the first time in a month, and he made another big contribution when crossing for Lukaku’s goal only 10 minutes after the centre-forward had been introduced.
In the first half, Aston Villa looked capable of causing Chelsea problems, on the break especially, and while the visitors from London had twice as much possession before the interval, shots on goal and corners were shared pretty evenly between the sides. Mason Mount, with a speculative ball in, clipped the crossbar when the game was still scoreless.
In the second half, a gap in class between the two teams became clearer, and we completed a deserved win when Lukaku was brought down and Jorginho netted his sixth penalty in his past six games. The victory moves us on to the same points as Liverpool (whose game was postponed) and six behind Manchester City.
The addition of Hudson-Odoi was one of two changes made to the 11 that began the previous Premier League game. The other was the return of Jorginho in midfield with Trevoh Chalobah able to revert to a defensive role today, allowing a rest for Cesar Azpilicueta after five starts in a row.
The returning Hudson-Odoi started up front with Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic, with Thomas Tuchel explaining before kick-off that Lukaku could not both start and finish the game so he was named among the subs.
With two wins in our previous six Premier League matches and Man City having won their game against Leicester shortly before our kick-off at Villa Park, we could ill afford to drop more points. Injuries and Covid absences were easing to allow a more regular team selection and bench but the first half was pretty even in terms of chances as well as goals.
If anything, Aston Villa started a little sharper than Thomas Tuchel’s team, but we soon steadied our ship and started to probe in and around the home team’s penalty area, although it twice needed Thiago Silva to be the right man in the right place to snuff out swift Villa counter-attacks.
At the other end, Kante’s influence was increasing and from one attack he set in motion, Mount caught a volley well but his shot was blocked a long way before reaching the goal.
The pace of Villa’s Ollie Watkins was looking a threat and when he escaped towards our goal on 20 minutes, Chalobah was the defender back making the block on this occasion.
Bar hit but we go behind
Mount, having switched wings, almost caught Villa goalie Emi Martinez out with a ball whipped over to the far post area midway through the half, but it hit the top of the crossbar and went behind.
Instead it was Edou Mendy caught out at the other end four minutes later, although there was little our keeper could have done about preventing the own goal. It was Matt Targett’s cross that James stretched to reach but to his horror, it skimmed off the top of his head and between Mendy’s hands.
Conceding in such a way had a touch of the misfortune about it that we suffered with West Ham’s winner at the start of December. What would be the response? The answer was a quick one.
Alonso fed Hudson-Odoi’s run into the area and Matty Cash made a rash challenge from behind. Jorginho then did what Jorginho does so well from the penalty spot to make it 1-1 with just over 10 minutes to go until half-time.
It was Villa who did the bulk of the attacking for what remained of the action up until the break.
Mendy was quickly out to clear danger and Chalobah blocked a shot by Ings before keeping Buendia at bay, although a cross from Alonso almost reached Mount when it was Chelsea’s turn to counter-attack.
Looking to Lukaku
When our no.9 was introduced at half-time, it was Chalobah who was the player removed, with James going into the back three and Pulisic switched out to wing-back. That substitution was quickly followed by what looked an injury-enforced change to the defence, with Andreas Christensen on for Thiago Silva.
Despite the disruption, Chelsea had shifted up a gear since the interval. Hudson-Odoi could not connect properly with a good shooting chance and a great Mount cross only just evaded Lukaku.
The pair did not have to wait long to make a proper impact as with 56 minutes played, Lukaku headed us 2-1 in front, darting in front of flat-footed Tyrone Mings to meet Hudson-Odoi’s cross.
Mount had a chance to make it 3-1 after Martinez had left his line and missed the ball, but the England man shot wide when team-mates in the middle were well placed.
Villa fans were angry later in the game when they had a penalty shout waved away by an offside flag, and their side remained in the game a little longer when Martinez made a very good save to prevent Hudson-Odoi increasing the lead, but we did stretch the advantage to two goals in added time.
There was no stopping Lukaku when he raced away onto a ball from the back, from Hudson-Odoi again, or at least there was no stopping him legally. After Targett had been brushed off, Ezri Konsa was the player who gave away the penalty which Jorginho planted in the corner despite the goalie diving the right way.
Boxing Day smiles restored
The Blues had a tradition of enjoying games played on 26 December until the past two years, having accumulated an unbeaten eight-season sequence on this day of the year until disappointing defeats at home to Southampton in 2019 and away at Arsenal last year. Happily, with this result at Villa Park, we are back to collecting Boxing Day points again.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Mendy; Chalobah (Lukaku h-t), Thiago Silva (Christensen 52), Rudiger; James, Kante (Kovacic 63), Jorginho (c), Alonso; Mount, Pulisic, Hudson-Odoi.
Unused subs Kepa, Azpilicueta, Sarr, Saul, Barkley, Ziyech.
Scorers Jorginho pen 34 90+3, Lukaku 56
Booked Alonso 70
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings (c) Targett; Sanson (El Ghazi 76), Douglas Luiz, J Ramsey; Buendia (Chukwuemeka 73), Ings (Traore 73), Watkins.
Unused subs Steer, Tuanzebe, Hause, Iroegbunam, Trezeguet, Davis.
Scorer James o.g. 28
Booked Martinez 33, Mings 64, Konsa 90+2
Referee Martin Atkinson