Aston Villa 2 Chelsea 2 – Why were Villa so passive? Have Chelsea proved their character?

This game rather ripped up the script established at these clubs this season.

Aston Villa, revived under Unai Emery, passed up the opportunity to move nine points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur as they surrendered a two-goal lead to Chelsea at a nervous Villa Park. Instead, the visitors roused themselves, levelled in a frantic second half and were only denied a winner deep into stoppage time by a VAR review.

A pulsating contest saw Chelsea fall behind early as Marc Cucurella put through his own net. Villa added a second on the counter through Morgan Rogers and looked comfortable, only for the visitors to rally after the break. Noni Madueke pulled one back and the irrepressible Conor Gallagher equalised, before Benoit Badiashile was denied a winner at the death.

Jacob Tanswell and Simon Johnson dissect a breathless contest at Villa Park.

Why were Villa so passive?

Aston Villa’s performance was mostly underpinned by a belief their ruthless streak would see them home.

Despite taking the lead in the fourth minute, with Villa Park roaring and Chelsea’s frailties threatening to rear up once again, Emery’s side were oddly passive thereafter, seemingly content to sit in a mid-to-low block and allow Chelsea onto them. Villa averaged between 25-28 per cent possession throughout the game, in sharp contrast to the level of control Emery wants to assert through patient possession and methodical build-up.

Yet, through two sweeping switch-of-play moves, Villa went into the break two goals up and apparently comfortable.

Instead, with nerves exacerbated by the injury to Martinez, Villa were cagey after the break. They looked short of energy and dishevelled at times, still unable to gain control through ball retention and Chelsea, for the most part, having three times the number of shots.

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Emery barks instruction from the touchline (DARREN STAPLES/AFP via Getty Images)

At 2-1, Emery uncharacteristically changed his system in exchange for a more defensive structure, introducing a third centre-back in Diego Carlos and midfield anchor Tim Iroegbunam with over a quarter of an hour left to play. To no avail.

The anxiety engulfing Villa Park spoke of a team that has the finish line in view and recognised how crucial holding onto three points was within the grander context of the season. They appeared inhibited, lacking confidence and were ultimately punished.

It might actually have been worse, but it was still two points dropped.

Jacob Tanswell

Does £1.2billion really buy you a bench like that?

Mauricio Pochettino knew from the outset that it was first XI or bust in terms of securing anything from this game.

There was a rather big clue what kind of squad Chelsea would be able to name on Friday when the club’s official app reported that 12 players were ruled out through injury. But when the team sheet came through, it still left you wondering how on earth the big spenders of the Premier League find themselves in such a predicament.

Even taking into account that 31-year-old Marcus Bettinelli was named as one of the back-up goalkeepers, the average age of the nine players on the bench came to just 20.67. And that only tells part of the story.

The number of Chelsea appearances they shared between them prior to kick off came to just 66 — of which Axel Disasi contributed 42.

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Pochettino boasted a youthful, inexperienced bench (Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Four of the players had not previously played a professional game in goalkeeper Ted Curd (18), Josh Acheampong (17), Tyrique George (18) and Kiano Dyer (17), all fine products of the club’s academy but untested at this level. Curd’s only experience of first-team football was playing for Hashtag United in the Isthmian League on loan earlier in the campaign.

To perhaps demonstrate how Pochettino was forced into making two late changes to the squad that travelled, George and Acheampong were both set to play for the Under-21s versus Southampton on Friday night but were pulled out a few hours before the fixture took place and told to join the senior setup instead.

With Chelsea trailing 2-0 at the interval it left Pochettino with next to no options to turn the game around, and reliant upon his starters to transform the contest.

Simon Johnson

How much of a blow are the Tielemans and Martinez injuries?

Both are significant.

Tielemans has become an integral cog in Emery’s ever evolving system. The Villa manager had previously had reservations over the Belgium midfielder’s defensive discipline and played him as a more dynamic No 10. But, while Douglas Luiz was out suspended, Tielemans retreated into a deeper role in a double pivot, receiving from Villa’s centre-backs and connecting the thirds.

It says much of the trust he had gained with Emery that, even with Douglas Luiz restored against Chelsea, the manager opted for John McGinn in the more advanced role.

Tielemans, however, began to toil before breaking down completely just before the half-hour mark, lying sprawled across the turf. He punched the ground in frustration as Moussa Diaby was being readied to replace him, and will now fear he could miss Villa’s defining run in qualifying for the Champions League and Thursday’s first leg of the UEFA Conference League semi-final against Olympiacos.

He walked gingerly around the edge of the pitch, receiving an ovation from Villa Park, before heading down the tunnel. Scans will reveal the extent of the injury.

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Tielemans limps off down the touchline for treatment (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

But he will not be the only Villa player anxiously awaiting the result of medical tests over the next few days.

Emiliano Martinez had to be replaced at the break after experiencing discomfort with his hamstring in the first half. The goalkeeper needed physio attention, with Villa deciding against risking him after the break.

Even though Martinez is suspended on Thursday, the goalkeeper being ruled out for any period of time would have big ramifications for Villa’s overall stability and on-field leadership presence.

Jacob Tanswell

Why does Villa Park bring the best out of Chelsea?

There is clearly something about Villa Park that brings out some fight in Chelsea. If only they could take this attitude into every fixture.

This is not the first time they have played at Aston Villa in 2024 with most people, including their own fans, writing them off. In February they won an FA Cup fourth round replay 3-1 here having gone into the game off the back of losing 4-1 and 4-2 to Liverpool and Wolves respectively.

It was a similar story this evening. They had endured the disappointment of a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend, followed up by a club record 5-0 scoreline against rivals Arsenal.

At 2-0 down, this felt like more of the same. But the second-half collapse witnessed at the Emirates Stadium four days ago was not replicated. Instead, Chelsea raised their game and laid siege to the Aston Villa goal. They enjoyed 70 per cent of the ball and, where normally second-half displays have seen them wilt, here they grew stronger.


Gallagher scored an excellent equaliser (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Cole Palmer had almost secured an unlikely victory when Badiashile, who had looked so rudderless at Arsenal last week, headed in the what the visitors believed was a winner deep into stoppage time. As it was, the VAR recommended an on-field review from the referee, with the goal duly ruled out for a nudge on Diego Carlos.

Pochettino had challenged his players on the eve of the game to prove they should be a part of things next season. This one display is not enough to do that, but at least it proves they have not given up on the campaign — unlike 12 months ago.

Simon Johnson

What did the managers say?

We will bring you what the managers said after they have spoken at their post-match press conferences.

What next for Villa?

Thursday, May 2: Olympiacos (H), Europa Conference League, 8pm BST, 3pm ET

The first leg of this semi-final with the return in Piraeus, a port district of Greek capital Athens, in a week’s time. The winners will play Italy’s Fiorentina or Club Bruges of Belgium, also in Athens, on May 29.

What next for Chelsea?

Thursday, May 2: Tottenham (H), Premier League, 7.30pm BST, 2.30pm ET

The Mauricio Pochettino Clasico, with Chelsea having lost only once in the past 14 meetings (winning 10) between the two London clubs.

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(Top photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

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