Aston Villa 0-0 Chelsea: lack of finishing quality
Chelsea dominated more as the game went on, but it was a game of missed chances.
Aston Villa were without Emile Heskey, so started with John Carew upfront. Stephen Ireland came in just behind, so Ashley Young moved back to the left. Habib Beye made his first start of the season.
Chelsea also had to make do without their first-choice striker, Didier Drogba, and are still missing Frank Lampard. Gael Kakuta came in, and Nicolas Anelka moved upfront. Branislav Ivanovic moved into the centre of the defence and Paulo Ferreira started at right-back.
Aston Villa started very strongly – Stephen Ireland was making runs past Jon Obi Mikel and wasted a good early chance, whilst John Carew was also causing a nuisance, forcing a good save out of Petr Cech.
The two line-ups were deployed as we expected and the two sides’ gameplans were as usual – Chelsea were building up play gradually with their three central midfielders, whilst Nicolas Anelka dropped deep and brought Florent Malouda and Kakuta into play. Chelsea’s line-up continues to be something between 4-3-3 and a 4-3-2-1 – the two ‘wide’ players generally take up central positions in possession, but also drift to the flanks to find space and to defend.
The 3 v3 battle in midfield meant most of the play took place in that area, with Ireland the least involved of the six, and Chelsea had more possession as the game went on. They also got their full-backs forward well, with Ashley Cole his old self after a frustratingly low-key performance for England in midweek. Stewart Downing had to be defensively-aware in tracking Cole all the way up the pitch.
What the away side did lack throughout the game was real drive and forward thinking from the centre of midfield. Without Lampard, Essien becomes the central midfielder looked to for this inspiration. Essien played in quite a deep position, however, and the Chalkboard of his passing suggests he generally looked for sideways or backwards passes, and seldom attempted a pass from within the final third.
This attitude is fine when Essien is deployed alongside a holding player and an attacking one in Lampard, but today Chelsea probably needed him playing a more energetic, forward-thinking role. His understated performance put a lot of the creative burden on Malouda and Kakuta, with the latter being replaced at half-time.
Yuri Zhirkov’s introduction gave Chelsea natural width high up the pitch, without subduing Cole. The two left-sided players link up well on the rare occasions they are deployed together, and with Malouda not at his best, it looked like Chelsea were going to get the breakthrough from that side. A corner won on the left was headed onto the post by Ivanovic, and in the final minute Cole’s superb chipped cross was somehow nodded over by Anelka.
Villa were less of an attacking threat in the second half but they kept their shape excellently, and defended well considering the early injury to Richard Dunne. They replaced the strength of Carew with the pace of Nathan Delfouneso with twenty minutes left, which meant they started to play balls into channels rather than look for Carew to hold the ball up. They had the final chance when Nigel Reo-Coker dispossessed Josh McEachran and dinked a shot wide.
Gerard Houllier summed the game up well, saying “The only thing missing from a good game was goals. It was football played at a great pace between two good sides. We had the better chances in the first half, but we were under the cosh in the second half before coming back at the end.”
Both sides simply lacked finishing quality, which can be linked back the fact that neither had their first-choice striker on the pitch. Question marks still remain about how Villa are going to fit their best players into their favoured positions (considering Houllier wants to play Young in a central position, and Ireland doesn’t look comfortable deep in midfield, added to the fact that his preference for Heskey-Young might mean no room for Gabriel Agbonlahor).
As mentioned in the report of Chelsea’s only other non-victory so far this season, away at Manchester City, they seem one established midfielder short. Still, at five points clear at the top, Ancelotti won’t be too concerned about that for now.Aston Villa 0-0 Chelsea: lack of finishing quality