Whatever the reason—whether it be having to sell key players to cut wages, a struggle for managerial stability in the post-Martin O’Neill era or just simply not having good enough players—it’s an unlikely and unwanted record for a team that only four years ago was challenging for Champions League places.
That counter-attacking football paid dividends on Saturday, though, against a team that has proved they are one of the best at it against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and more recently Manchester City.
Chelsea have shown that they can play super-effective counter-attacking football against some of Europe’s best sides. A solid back line, accompanied by deep-lying midfielders, topped off with fast attackers to break quickly has been the foundation of that successful formula. Solid performances against Barcelona and Bayern in 2012 eventually won them the Champions League, and their victory at the Etihad in February sees them join Bayern, Barcelona and Wigan Athletic in an exclusive group of teams that have beaten City there this season.
B/R’s Christopher Atkins took an extremely detailed look at that victory at the Etihad and how Chelsea broke down Man City.
It’s a style that Jose Mourinho utilised at Real Madrid with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil. He has continued to use at an already efficient Chelsea side.
However, that style of football works for Chelsea when they play sides that attack by pushing numbers forward giving them the opportunity to break into gaps left open to them. Villa don’t play like that, though, and instead the masters of counter-attacking football were given a master-class themselves.
Villa defended in numbers.
Their three deeper-lying midfielders—Karim El Ahmadi, Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph—made more tackles between them than all six defenders who made an appearance, via whoscored.com, as well as contributing to a number of interceptions and clearances.
They broke down Chelsea’s play as well, often resulting in fouls near their own box. Mourinho’s side failed to take chances from free-kicks and struggled to find any fluency in their play despite having Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian Borges da Silva (for 68 minutes) in their attack.
When Villa did win the ball back they used their 38 per cent of possession well.
Using the pace of Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann up front, combined with Delph and El Ahmadi in midfield and Christian Benteke as a strong target man, they moved upfield quickly and put pressure on Chelsea’s defence.
Benteke’s effort just wide of the post in the 65th minute was a real example of this—Agbonlahor drove the ball quickly out of defence before Benteke combined well with Weimann on the edge of the area, driving the ball just wide.
Their willingness to shoot early in good positions put more pressure on Chelsea’s defence—Delph’s effort in second-half stoppage time that Petr Cech deflected onto the crossbar almost proved a damaging example.
Marc Albrighton has not had the best couple of years after looking like one of Villa’s—and England’s—brightest young talents.
But Lambert’s decision to bring him on for Gabriel Agbonlahor proved a fantastic decision and a gamble that paid off. It bolstered Villa’s numbers in midfield after Chelsea had had Willian sent off and proved a key component in the goal.
Ashley Westwood won the ball back in central midfield, Delph was able to break with pace and Albrighton’s run from deep provided Villa with some width before he could pull it back for a sublime finish from Delph.
It was the proverbial icing on the cake of a Villa performance that frustrated Chelsea, reminiscent of so many performances that have seen the Blues overcome arguably stronger opposition.
In short, Villa out-Chelsea-ed Chelsea!