Ollie Watkins and John McGinn help Aston Villa add to Chelsea’s misery

·4-min read

For a mid-table evening sideshow to follow an afternoon of thrills and spills at the top and bottom, this was still high-class Premier League entertainment. And between two shy managers, neither a rock-star quote machine and both offering steadiness over turbulence, it was Unai Emery who prevailed over Graham Potter.

Emery’s quiet, technocratic approach continues to win approval with Villa fans while Potter remains an uneasy fit for Chelsea, his team’s recent revival forgotten amid this latest reverse. He was barracked loudly at full time. His appointment again looks ill-starred at a club where turbulence is part of the package. Winning matches is supposed to be, too. “I understand when you lose at home that people are going to be angry,” he said. “Whatever criticism comes I have to accept.”

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Villa’s success owed plenty to Chelsea’s panicky, poor finishing. Where Ollie Watkins was cool in lobbing home the first goal and John McGinn powerful and precise with the second, Chelsea hoiked myriad shots wide, unable to turn their dominance of possession into goals. A late Ben Chilwell shot lashed over the bar was the final insult.

It meant Villa climbed above Chelsea in the table and are now ninth, a significant achievement considering where Steven Gerrard left them in October. For all Chelsea’s burning of cash, the second-city club have ambitions, too, their own venture-capital dollars to spend. They now look up rather than down, having collected more points than anyone apart from Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United since Emery’s arrival.

“It will be very, very difficult to challenge for Europe,” said Emery. “Our objective is to be in the top 10, which we currently are. But from Tuesday onwards, we need to make sure we stay there.”

In the week where Thomas Tuchel went public on his continuing heartache at being separated from his Chelsea “family”, Potter reintroduced Mykhailo Mudryk. That Arsenal ended up with Leandro Trossard rather than the callow Ukrainian, who missed two good chances and struggled with Villa’s muscle, looks the transfer misfire/steal (delete as applicable) of the season. Not that Mudryk was alone in disappointing. Potter’s combination of veterans and Todd Boehly all-stars lacked cohesion, Villa happy to grant possession to opponents unsure of their route to goal.

“It’s not easy to come here,” said Emery after Villa’s first win at Stamford Bridge since December 2011. “We prepared for the match thinking we might struggle, which we did at times in the first half.”

Emi Martínez made two smothering saves from Mudryk, and the Argentinian World Cup winner might have become playmaker when his strafing pass was turned by McGinn into a chance for Watkins to bludgeon wide in the seventh minute.

Watkins’s goal came via Douglas Luiz’s hopeful ball and a mixup between Marc Cucurella and Kalidou Koulibaly before a measured, lobbed finish. “The goal is a blow for us, we need to do better with that,” said Potter.

Uneasiness and rancour set in among the home fans even though Chelsea were creating chances. The half ended with boos, though not for Potter. Instead the referee, Andy Madley, was heckled after ruling out a Chilwell equaliser for a clear foul on Ashley Young.

With Villa happy to hold defensive shape, Chelsea began the second half with the same momentum. But when McGinn whipped in a crashing left-foot finish, Jacob Ramsey having recycled a corner into the Scotsman’s path for his first Villa goal in 16 months, Potter was targeted from the stands. “If you look at the xG of the [McGinn] goal, it’s not that big a chance,” he said, his technical discourse unlikely to smooth many waters.

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His immediate response had been to bring on N’Golo Kanté and Noni Madueke. The unfortunate Mudryk departed the scene. Kanté, while not on the field to score goals, became the next man to drag a good chance wide as the fans complained. “They’re professionals, they understand what it is,” said Potter of his players’ response to an audible, pained reaction. “They’re honest and we’re fighting together. There’s no complaints.”

Mateo Kovacic pulled his shirt over his face after one late effort was launched deep into the stand. The away fans, meanwhile, reminded Carney Chukwuemeka, an unused sub who departed their club for Chelsea’s revolution last summer, of the scoreline. They could have included the league position, too.

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