Chelsea suffered a narrow loss to Aston Villa after being reduced to 10 men for most of the second half, with every reason to feel aggrieved at not coming out of the game with at least a point.
The first half saw us control possession, but could have gone either way in terms of chances, with Robert Sanchez and Emiliano Martinez both producing some impressive saves to keep the scores goalless until half-time. Nicolas Jackson went the closest for Chelsea, before Axel Disasi had a headed goal chalked off for offside.
Things changed shortly after half-time when VAR intervened, resulting in referee Jarred Gillett overturning his original decision and sending off Malo Gusto. It seemed harsh, with the right-back initially winning the ball before catching Lucas Digne with the follow-through.
That red card allowed Aston Villa to take the upper hand and, despite some valiant defending by the Blues, the visitors managed to take the lead through Ollie Watkins and our depleted side couldn't find a way to unlock the opposition defence as we searched for an equaliser.
Mudryk a threat
Chelsea made a promising start, Mykhailo Mudryk coming in from the right to scoop a pass over the defence for Enzo. The flag eventually went up for offside, but we had shown our intent early on. That width continued to cause Villa problems throughout, with Mudryk and Raheem Sterling at the heart of many of our best moves.
We did have Robert Sanchez to thank for keeping things level 20 minutes in, though, with the first of two excellent first-half saves by the Spaniard. Villa’s first corner of the game was headed clear, but Digne smashed a viciously dipping volley from the edge of the box, which our keeper did brilliantly to tip over at full stretch.
It was the other goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez who was receiving the grateful thanks of his team-mates moments later. It was another clever run inside from Mudryk followed by a reverse pass in behind which created the chance. Nicolas Jackson took it early and seemed to have beaten Martinez at the near post, but the Argentinian stuck out a hand to narrowly divert it wide at the last moment.
Goalkeepers on top
There was a further chance for the Blues on a quick counter-attack, ending with Gusto getting into the right-hand channel and cutting a pass back towards the penalty spot. Enzo met it with a first-time shot on his left foot, but couldn’t control his effort and it faded wide without troubling the keeper.
The first-half action wasn’t quite done yet, with time for Sanchez to produce another excellent piece of goalkeeping, this time Nicolo Zaniolo hammering a volley goalwards from a corner before our Spaniard palmed it away.
Chelsea did get the ball in the net on the stroke of half-time, Disasi powering a header into the top corner from an excellent Sterling cross, but it was ruled out for offside, leaving the game goalless at the break.
We came out the livelier of the two teams at the start of the second half too, Jackson sending a back-post header narrowly wide right at the start, but the Chelsea supporters who had been getting increasingly frustrated with the referee were soon left furious.
First Jackson was harshly booked for being too close to Martinez when the goalkeeper, having wasted time as long as possible, quickly struck the ball at Jackson as soon as his back was turned. That was the striker's fifth yellow, meaning he receives a one-match suspension. Worse followed, though, when VAR overruled the referee's decision to book Gusto for the follow-through on a sliding challenge, with Gillett opting for a red card after watching the incident on the monitor.
Down to 10 men with 30 minutes remaining. Ben Chilwell replaced Mudryk to maintain our shape at the back, but understandably Villa were in control for the period which followed, pressing their numerical advantage.
Thiago Silva and Levi Colwill made crucial interventions as we attempted to hold on, but we couldn't do so for long. A quick ball in behind released Ollie Watkins. The unlucky Colwill did brilliantly to block his first effort, but the rebound fell back to the striker and he slotted in from a tight angle to give Aston Villa the lead.
We tried to fight back, with Chilwell and Disasi both having half-chances but being unable to find the back of the net. Armando Broja came off the bench for his first appearance since November last year as we chased an equaliser, but ultimately the 10 men of Chelsea were unable to find a way through, despite 11 minutes of added time.
What comes next…
We are back in action at Stamford Bridge in midweek, when we host Brighton in the Carabao Cup at 7.45pm on Wednesday 27 September. Chelsea then fill the late Monday Premier League slot next week, making the short trip to Fulham for an 8pm kick-off.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Sanchez; Gusto, Disasi, Thiago Silva, Colwill; Enzo (Ugochukwu 68), Caicedo (Broja 79), Gallagher (c); Sterling, Jackson (Palmer 68), Mudryk (Chilwell 60)
Unused subs: Bergstrom, Petrovic, Cucurella, Maatsen, Washington
Booked: Jackson 50, Chilwell 90
Sent off: Gusto 58
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Torres, Digne; Kamara (Dendoncker 90+1), Luiz; Diaby (Tielemans 81), McGinn (c) (Ramsey 75), Zaniolo (Bailey 75); Watkins (Duran 90+1)
Unused subs: Olsen, Chambers, Kellyman, Lenglet
Scorer: Watkins 73
Booked: Digne 45, Martinez 90+4
Referee: Jarred Gillett