Our last game at Villa Park is the focus of our retrospective look at a previous meeting between the sides ahead of the next showdown, with a certain Brazilian making a big impression...
Chelsea’s last league visit to Villa Park was a battle of the caretakers on 2 April 2016. The Blues had endured a catastrophic defence of the title and dispensed with Jose Mourinho in mid-December while in 16th position.
Under Guus Hiddink, interim man at the Bridge for a second time, Chelsea slowly and unspectacularly regained ground to sit mid-table. Eric Black’s rock-bottom hosts, meanwhile, were lacking line-leader Gabby Agbonlahor, dropped for disciplinary reasons after a photographer had caught him smoking a shisha pipe.
After FA Cup defeat by Everton, Hiddink surveyed and sampled his squad with a view to its future make-up. For the Midlands jaunt he selected Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Baba Rahman, Kenedy and Loic Remy – who would wear the rampant lion for the last time, hobbling off in the first half to make way for Alexandre Pato. The Brazilian made his long-awaited debut along with Jake Clarke-Salter and Matt Miazga.
In a sensational substitute cameo, Pato would play a big part in three of Chelsea four goals, and netted powerfully from the penalty spot. That was in first-half stoppage time, after Aly Cissokho had clumsily bundled over the Corinthians loanee in the box. ‘We were there when Pato scored!’ crowed the travelling fans.
Even before then, the forward’s first touch had initiated a fluent move that ended in a Cesar Azpilicueta cross and a quick side-foot from Ruben Loftus-Cheek that nutmegged and deflected off Joleon Lescott to open the scoring – his first league goal for the Blues.
Straight after the break another intricate move by the Blues, in which Pato had two touches, presented an easy finish to Pedro. The fourth and final goal of the afternoon came after Pato cut in from the left and shot across Brad Guzan, who could only divert the ball into Pedro’s path. The Spaniard finished deftly, then ran over to celebrate his brace by fly-kicking a corner flag.
From then on, it was all about Villans. Firstly, in the 74th minute, the sparsely-populated stands held up placards in demonstration against the club’s downward direction, and then formed them into paper aeroplanes to throw on to the pitch. Then, with five minutes to go, Alan Hutton was handed his marching orders amid tremendous hostility from the home support.
Chelsea, meanwhile, remained 10th – a point behind Liverpool – as Hiddink continued to stabilise the champions. The shrewd Dutchman resisted the temptation to over-praise Pato on his impressive first start, 64 days after joining. ‘The expectation was that he would have come in sooner, but we had to get his physical condition right, to put him through a pre-season before he could show his quality on the field,’ Hiddink admitted.
‘It was not the toughest game and we will see how he will cope with more resistance but it was good to see him on the field.’
After that scintillating debut Pato started just one more game before returning to South America.
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