A series of controversial moments that involved Branislav Ivanovic combined to take Chelsea to the top of the Premier League table with a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge.
The right-back not only scored a goal that appeared to be offside but was let off the hook for a serious challenge on Christian Benteke.
Chelsea, who opened their top-flight campaign with a 2-0 win at home to Hull on Sunday, got off to a quick start against Villa, finding the back of the net after just six minutes.
Oscar, who scored one of the Blues’ goals at the weekend, threaded a lovely ball through to Eden Hazard who raced in on goal and delivered a curling shot to the far post that Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan initially saved before Antonio Luna’s accidental touch put it into his own net.
The hosts seemed to go from strength to strength after getting on the scoresheet, but despite a rate of possession that surpassed 70 per cent (all statistics courtesy WhoScored.com) were unable to see their dominance represented in goals.
Demba Ba, who repeatedly found himself offside, was especially wasteful in what was surely an important match for his first-team chances going forward, and after Romelu Lukaku replaced him midway through the second half, the Chelsea attack was an entirely different animal.
Villa, to their credit, settled as the opening period came to a close—Fabian Delph, in particular, provided both a sense of stability and creative outlet in the centre of midfield.
And in the final minute of first-half stoppage time, Gabriel Agbonlahor placed an inch-perfect ball onto the feet of Benteke inside the area, and the Belgium international, ignoring the mistimed and misplaced challenge of John Terry, calmly slotted the ball inside the near post to equalise.
After the restart it was Villa who knocked on the door—Benteke, Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann all coming close in a half that seemed to have a little bit of everything.
And then, in the 70th minute, Ivanovic might well have been issued a straight red card for a foul on Benteke, but having escaped with a yellow, brought the drama at the other end of the park just moments later.
A Frank Lampard free kick from well out and at an extreme angle saw the Serbian international run into an offside position before heading the ball past Guzan, but with neither the referee nor his assistants having spotted the offence, the goal was given, and it proved to be the winner.
Key Player Grades
Eden Hazard: A
Not only did Hazard have a major hand in Chelsea’s sixth-minute opener, but he also committed himself in defense—most notably in the final moments when he raced back into his own end of the pitch to nick the ball off Villa right-back Matthew Lowton.
John Terry: C-
The Chelsea captain could well have conceded a handball late on if referee Kevin Friend hadn’t missed the incident, and his attempt to bear down on Benteke ahead of the Belgian’s goal was laughable.
Christian Benteke: A-
Benteke’s rate of scoring will have a lot to do with whatever success Villa attains this season, and on Wednesday he again found the back of the net and might well have equalized in the final few minutes had Petr Cech not denied his effort with a sensational save.
Fabian Delph: A
It’s sometimes easy to forget just how highly rated Delph was when he arrived at Villa from Leeds. On Wednesday, the midfielder was nothing short of inspirational, helping his side settle with calm possession and creating counter-attacks with his five successful tackles.
Chelsea, who have six points from two matches, will be at Old Trafford on Monday for a high-profile encounter with Manchester United. Villa, meanwhile, will host Liverpool on Saturday before opening their Capital One Cup campaign four days later at home to Rotherham.
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