The Blues secured Champions League football despite a disappointing final day loss at Villa Park. Thanks to Leicester failing to beat Spurs, Thomas Tuchel’s side finished 4th. However, it was not ideal preparation for the UCL Final as it ended Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea.
Thomas Tuchel chose to not risk N’Golo Kante ahead of Saturday’s UCL Final. Instead, Mateo Kovacic – who came on as a substitute midweek – partnered Jorginho in the midfield. Up top, Timo Werner led the line with Pulisic and Mount alongside him. Tammy Abraham, who had a successful loan spell at Villa didn’t make the match-day squad once again.
Chelsea knew a win at Villa Park would secure third place in the Premier League. At the same time, matching Leicester or Liverpool’s result would ensure the Blues finished in the Champions League spots. Liverpool’s final day outing was easy on paper – home to Crystal Palace. In contrast, Leicester were up against Tottenham Hotspur who needed to win themselves to get European football.
They started the game with positive intent, controlling possession and trying to starve Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins of service. At the same time, Crystal Palace went close at Anfield. Andros Townsend drove through the Liverpool line, but one-on-one with Alisson, he dragged the strike wide.
18 minutes in and the first goal in the Champions League tussle. Anthony Taylor missed a stonewall penalty at the KP. However, VAR intervened and Jamie Vardy stepped up to make it Leicester City 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur. A few moments later, Wesley Fofana left the pitch in tears for the Foxes. As things stood, they and Chelsea were getting European football at the top table.
At Villa Park, Chelsea continued to dominate the ball, but found clear chances hard to come by. Christian Pulisic’s emphatic bicycle kick was straight at Martinez. The Argentinian keeper also saved from Mount and Chilwell. However, the former was guilty of a huge miss. A cross-field pass found Azpilicueta who pulled the ball back for Mount just inside the box. However, he didn’t get his body over the ball and slashed it wild and wide.
With 35 minutes of the clock, the situation twisted again. At Anfield, a deep corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold floated to Sadio Mane at the back post. There was a brief scuffle as the Senegalese winger jabbed the ball goalwards and it trickled over the line. Suddenly, Liverpool and Leicester were both in the driving seat.
At Villa Park, Chelsea continued to be frustrated. Jack Grealish seemed to have carte blanche just to kick anything in a Blue shirt. Referee Stuart Atwell failed to give clear yellow cards for several poor challenges. However, goals were now flowing elsewhere. At the King Power, Son Heung-Min looped a cross back into the box and the ball ricocheted to Harry Kane. On potentially his final appearance for Spurs, he made no mistake. Leicester 1-1 Tottenham and suddenly Chelsea were back in 4th again.
The opening goal at Villa Park came minutes later. On the 43rd minute, Ollie Watkin’s persistence saw Thiago Silva give away a cheap corner. With the six-yard box packed, Matt Targett instead looked towards the edge of the box. Bertrand Traore had peeled away. The Burkinabe attacker – a former Chelsea youngster swept the ball goalwards, mishitting it slightly. The ball looped up perfectly to clip into the top corner, via the crossbar and past Ed Mendy. There was injury to insult as he crashed into the post too.
Despite that goal, Chelsea remained in 4th in the Premier League, by the skin of their teeth. Ahead on goal difference, and with a huge 45 ahead.
HT: Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea
The final 45 minutes of the Premier League season at Villa Park started with a concern for Chelsea. Mendy, who took a knock during the goal was replaced by Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Blues did start fast though, and were unlucky to not be level. Timo Werner broke into space down the left wing. The German was closed down but was able to find Christian Pulisic. The American scored at Villa Park last season in Project Restart. However, this time his scuffed finish was poor. Luck also did not side with the Blues. The ball deflected off two Villa defenders and looped towards goal, just finishing the wrong side of the post.
To add further frustration, there was another goal at the KP from the spot. Anthony Taylor gave Leicester a contentious VAR penalty. The initial contact appeared to be outside the box, but he ruled it warranted a spot-kick. Up stepped Jamie Vardy again and he made no mistake. Leicester 2-1 Spurs. Chelsea back into 5th position.
Also on the 52′ minute, there was another goal at Villa Park. Once again, Chelsea self-destructed. A corner from Villa was not properly cleared and Matt Targett played a nice one-two with Jack Grealish. The English midfielder found Traore, who poked the ball past Jorginho before going down. It was a soft penalty, but Jorginho did impede the former Chelsea man. Anwar El-Ghazi stepped up and made no mistake against Kepa. Aston Villa 2-0 Chelsea.
Chelsea made their first change. Jorginho – on a yellow – replaced by Hakim Ziyech. The Moroccan instantly involved in the move that seemed to get Chelsea back into the game. A good spell of passing saw Mount pick up the ball on the edge of the box. He slipped the ball through for Cesar Azpilicueta, who got bundled over by Ezri Konsa. The ensuing scramble saw the ball pop to Timo Werner who prodded into the empty net. Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa? No, as usual, the linesman’s flag denied the German. The replays showed it was tight, however, Azpilicueta’s arm was adjudged offside. Tuchel responded by going very attacking. Mateo Kovacic replaced by Kai Havertz and Chelsea playing 4-2-4.
However, a few minutes later Chelsea did reduce the deficit. Mason Mount slipped the ball through the lines for Christian Pulisic who timed his run behind Targett perfectly. His deep cross found Ben Chilwell. A side-footed volley crossed the line before Martinez scrambled the ball away. Confirmed by Stuart Atwell watch moments later, it was suddenly Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea with 20 minutes left.
7 minutes later, another goal at the King Power as the drama continued. A deep corner from Spurs came towards Kasper Schmeichel. Leicester’s FA Cup hero chose to punch the effort. A poor decision as the ball squirted off his knuckles into the net. The own goal meant Chelsea were suddenly back in 4th, despite the score still being Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea.
At Anfield, Liverpool confirmed 3rd place. Mo Salah broke with Palace caught up the pitch. The Egyptian found Wijnaldum who placed in Mane. One touch, followed by a drive and the Reds were over the hill. Chelsea went close to grabbing a 2nd at Villa Park too. Another deep cross found Ben Chilwell who caught the effort well. This time, Emi Martinez got his body in the way to keep it Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea.
At the King Power, however, there was another goal. Harry Kane, chasing the golden boot rounded the Leicester keeper. With a tight angle, he looked up and chose to find Gareth Bale instead. The Welshman calmly slotted into the empty net. VAR checked for a handball which didn’t come. Leicester 2-3 Spurs. Chelsea suddenly jumped back into 4th.
The only drama remaining at Villa Park was inside Chelsea’s half. Azpilicueta and Grealish tangled by the sideline for a Chelsea free kick. Azpilicueta was clearly unimpressed by Grealish and waved an arm towards his face. Grealish’s recoil as if he had been punched by Mike Tyson persuaded Atwell to dish out the red card. The Chelsea skipper departed.
A final moment of drama at the KP. With Leicester fully advanced up the pitch, Spurs broke away through Gareth Bale. The Welsh star literally strolled up the pitch with little resistance. His initial effort hit the post but he tapped in the rebound. If this was his farewell, he signed off in style. Chelsea huffed and puffed in their own injury time, but couldn’t find the equaliser. It ended Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea – but the overall objective for the day was achieved.
FT: Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea
Final Thoughts: Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea
Mission accomplished. We’re in the Champions League. It was a dire performance but that ultimately doesn’t matter.
In many ways it was a microcosm of Chelsea’s season under Frank Lampard and then Thomas Tuchel. Loads of possession. Lots of good play around the box. No clinical killer edge in the box. Then individual lapses in concentration, or silly mistakes costing goals. Chelsea should have taken at least a point from Villa today. If they play like that next week, Manchester City will slaughter them.
I’d also like to express that I think Harry Kane is a terrific striker, well deserving of his third Golden Boot. Gareth Bale continues to be a world-class player. How can’t Zinedine Zidane see it I don’t know? Finally, Ryan Mason is absolutely not out of his depth at all. I look forward to seeing how Spurs handle their inaugural Europa Conference League campaign.
Roll on the Champions League Final in Porto next weekend.
Written and edited by Rob Pratley (@RJPJournalism)
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