Chelsea improve top-four chances with come-from-behind win at struggling Villa

Nick Mashiter, PA
PA Media: Sport

Chelsea strengthened their grip on the top four after a quickfire comeback gave them a 2-1 win at struggling Aston Villa.

Two goals in as many second-half minutes from Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud boosted the Blues’ Champions League hopes.

Frank Lampard’s men are now five points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United after making their return to action following the Premier League’s enforced break.

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Kortney Hause’s first Premier League goal had given Villa a first-half lead against the run of play.

Dean Smith’s team avoided defeat against Sheffield United on Wednesday thanks to a technical glitch with the goal line cameras but they were well beaten on Sunday.

The loss kept them in the bottom three as they again missed a golden chance to boost their survival bid after relegation rivals Bournemouth and West Ham lost on Saturday.

Despite taking the lead they were too passive and are staring at an immediate return to the Sky Bet Championship.

Mason Mount, right, was first to threaten for Chelsea (PA)
Mason Mount, right, was first to threaten for Chelsea (PA)

Predictably, Chelsea dominated from the start as they looked for their first top flight away win since December.

The visitors patiently probed with Villa happy to sit back but it took until the 21st minute for Chelsea to force Orjan Nyland into a save when he turned away Mason Mount’s drive.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek, making his first Premier League appearance for 13 months after an Achilles injury, eased back into action during a first half which was more like a training game of attack versus defence.

N’Golo Kante was a force in the middle and afforded time to dictate the play while also shackling John McGinn.

N’Golo Kante impressed in Chelsea’s midfield (PA)
N’Golo Kante impressed in Chelsea’s midfield (PA)

Nyland spilled Mateo Kovacic’s tame effort before Anwar El Ghazi finally showed a Villa threat, forcing Kepa Arrizabalaga to parry his low strike from 25 yards.

But Chelsea continued to knock on the door and Loftus-Cheek was inches away from connecting with Mount’s low cross six minutes before half time.

Ezri Konsa blocked from Marcos Alonso after a swift break and Willian curled wide with a breakthrough seeming inevitable.

Yet it was Villa who went into the break ahead after stunning the Blues in the 43rd minute.

Villa’s Kortney Hause, number 30, is congratulated by his team-mates after opening the scoring (PA)
Villa’s Kortney Hause, number 30, is congratulated by his team-mates after opening the scoring (PA)

Kovacic conceded a soft free-kick and it was worked to Douglas Luiz to cross for El Ghazi at the far post. The midfielder’s effort was well saved by Kepa but Hause scrambled in the rebound from six yards.

Kovacic almost found an instant reply but his volley fizzed wide and while Chelsea bossed possession again after the break they needed an extra dimension.

Tyrone Mings and Hause gobbled up any crosses and Lampard called for Pulisic and Ross Barkley within 10 minutes of the restart.

It proved decisive as the Blues scored twice in 121 seconds to turn the game and reflect their dominance.

Christian Pulisic, left, equalised for Chelsea (PA)
Christian Pulisic, left, equalised for Chelsea (PA)

First, Pulisic levelled just before the hour mark, firing in Cesar Azpilicueta’s deep cross from close range, before it got worse for Villa.

Again Azpilicueta provided the assist, teeing up Giroud who was gifted too much space to turn and his effort took a deflection off Conor Hourihane before beating Nyland.

Villa were stunned and all Chelsea needed to do was maintain their focus, with the hosts lacking confidence.

Nyland tipped Willian’s drive over but Jota almost earned Villa a fortunate point when he fired wide with two minutes left.

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