In this series, I review my in-ground experience throughout the campaign, this time for Aston Villa at home. It’s split into two columns, one for home games and the other for away days. I run through various topics from atmosphere to a game review and give some unique observations directly from stadiums up and down the country.
Aston Villa (H): Pre-Match Predictions
It was a pleasure returning to Stamford Bridge for only the second home game this season. With the stadium now officially at full capacity after the previous game’s seating saga, there was a growing sense of excitement down Fulham Road.
The usual pub I walk past, The Chelsea Pensioner, was full to the brim, blaring out ‘Heaven is a place on earth’, with the now-modified lyrics. It felt like an idyllic evening for football – the sun was shining, the fans were in fine voice and Spurs had lost earlier on in the day.
All that was left was to walk through the gates and write my pre-match thoughts, which were as follows:
‘Having seen the line-up, I’m excited to see Saul, though I’d have liked to have him partnered with Jorginho. It’s brilliant to have Romelu Lukaku back at the Bridge, and Kai Havertz deserves his start too, but Hakim Ziyech is a bold choice.
I personally wouldn’t have had Marcos Alonso as captain when the likes of Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger are on the pitch, but clearly Thomas Tuchel sees something I don’t. On Villa’s side, we should benefit from the fact it’s the second-choice Jed Steer in goal, but the strike force of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings could be a concern.
It’s a tough one to predict, but I think we’ll keep a clean sheet and Lukaku will get a goal. As for the scoreline, I’ll go for 2-0 Chelsea.
Due to the ever-present constraints of the infamous Virtual Waiting Room, I once again found myself in the East Lower North. To clear things up, that’s on the side of the camera, and to the right of the halfway line.
Rather than being further back however, I was in the midst of the action, seated in Row F. When you consider that for reasons unknown the front row is D, you realise how close I was.
In fact, I personally would’ve preferred a slightly further back seat to get a sense of the pitch. That said, you don’t get photos of the warm-ups like the one below from further back, so perhaps it’s worth it after all.
I would struggle to suggest it’s a better location than against Palace, meaning I’d give it a 6.5/10.
Chelsea 3-0 Aston Villa: Game Summary
The action came thick and fast in the opening period of the game and I found myself increasingly feeling as though I was watching a tennis match as my head swivelled from side to side repeatedly.
While I’ve mentioned it previously, the feelings that hearing a crowd noise evokes are almost unmatched. It’s the feeling of the hair on the back of your neck standing up. It’s the feeling of excitement as the seats clatter when everyone stands moments before a big chance. And it’s the feeling of pure joy as the ball hits the back of the net and you go wild.
That’s what happened just a quarter of an hour in, when Romelu Lukaku buried the first opportunity he was given. His cool, calm and collected finish was done so with aplomb and set the tone for a successful Chelsea performance.
Credit must go to Villa for their performance, particularly in the first half. Dean Smith’s side performed admirably, and there were more than a few nervous faces around me as half time approached.
What changed that mood though was the introduction of Jorginho. It was as if simply his presence on the pitch calmed the whole team down, and from then on it was largely business as usual.
A defensive mishap was pounced upon by Mateo Kovacic of all people, before Lukaku got his second deep into injury time. His corner flag celebration is one that does feel significant already – and one Chelsea fans will hope is repeated again and again in the future.
Things you don’t see and hear on TV
As I’ve explained, this column, is not intended to simply be a rundown of a match most people will have already seen. Neither is it intended as a boast at my privileged position of being able to attend Blues’ fixtures.
Rather, it’s an attempt to allow others to get a sense of what it was really like inside the stadium. That’s usually best done by commenting not on what is already known, but what is not.
Before I comment on observations of fellow Chelsea fans, I do feel duty bound to mention the Aston Villa fans who were in fine voice throughout the game. Away fans can vary at Stamford Bridge, but those who made the trip from the Midlands certainly contributed to what was a brilliant atmosphere.
Moving towards the home fans, I’m sure most saw the new banner for Mason Mount (inserted below). What many people may not have seen is the midfielder’s reaction. Luckily, with my proximity to the dugouts, I caught a glimpse of the 22-year-old’s face and, while I’m no expert on human psychology, the huge grin he had on his face does appear to tell something of a story.
Thomas Tuchel’s eccentricity on the touchline is always a marvel to behold too. The German’s extravagant arm motions give a sense of both urgency and comic relief to his instructions. After all, who wouldn’t laugh at multiple large arm circles meant to represent pushing up the pitch?
By the end of the match, while there were many conclusions to be made, one stuck clear in my mind. Chelsea, bar a minor goals scored technicality, were joint top of the league. Joint, I might add, with a team who have arguably the greatest player of all time.
I think the reaction to today’s results was summed up best by Tuchel. He was asked in his post-match interview whether Lukaku could outscore Ronaldo this season in the league. ‘I couldn’t care less as long as Lukaku scores for us,’ was his response.
And you know what Thomas? I couldn’t agree more.
Written by Noah Robson (@noahrobson)
Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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