The rise of the smartphone and the ubiquity of communication makes the old adage of “unplugging the phone” more archaic by the day. But you’d forgive Chelsea manager Graham Potter for throwing his sim card into the sea and punting his Wi-Fi router off a roof after a galling 2-0 loss to Aston Villa. It was less the fact his side had lost to Villa. These two started the day as 10th and 11th in the table. But it’s the fact Villa, a squad far less costly or star-studded than Chelsea, didn’t even have to hold on to seal this win. They were allowed to canter to the finish line against a team that won the Champions League two years ago.
Chelsea’s rickety defence was in evidence almost from the first whistle. Kalidou Koulibaly and Reece Hames were caught ball-watching, allowing John McGinn to play in Ollie Watkins. The England striker’s finish was tame and wayward. But next time Chelsea let the 27-year-old in, they wouldn’t be so lucky.
Chelsea threatened too, with a promising breakaway led by Joao Felix disintegrating when Ezri Konsa challenge Kai Havertz. Mateo Kovacic attempted a laughable volley from outside the box, an attempt so wild and erratic that even the midfielder himself was laughing afterwards.
There was a warning sign doled out by McGinn, when Jacob Ramsey’s mazy run and Emi Buendia’s fine pass created an opening. The Scotland midfielder bent his effort onto the crossbar, but it was another worrying moment for the home side.
Eventually, the Villans crossed the Stamford Bridge. A raking Douglas Luiz pass had Marc Cucurella fumbling around like a man trying to find a contact lens on top of an aeroplane. Watkins took advantage, applying the softest of touches to dink the ball over Kepa and into the Chelsea net. Advantage: Villa.
Chelsea reacted, with Mykhailo Mudryk putting a shot a little too close to Emi Martinez. James had another blocked, which Cucurella kept alive long enough for Felix to stick the wrong side of the post. Ruben Loftus-Cheek squared the ball to Kai Havertz at an opportune moment, but the forward had his shot saved
When Chelsea did finally breach Martinez’s goal, the joy was short-lived. Ben Chilwell elegantly headed in an Enzo Fernandez pass, the sort of ball £106 million gets you. But the defender was adjudged to have pushed his marker in order to get the header away, and the score remained 1-0 going into half time.
Fernandez started the second half with a superb ball out to Chilwell. The defender pirouetted past Ashley Young and then argued for a pullback when he was stopped by the ex-Manchester United man.
While Chelsea showed promise, Villa showed precision. A corner spilled out as far as Ramsey. The young midfielder teed up McGinn, who rifled a superb finish into the bottom corner. It was a stunning goal from the Scotsman. You’d never guess from the quality on show here that this was his first club goal for 16 months.
Substitute N’golo Kante almost made the difference for Chelsea after coming off the bench. Fellow replacement Noni Madueke raced into the Villa box, squaring for the central midfielder. Kante’s shot went wide, but the threat was there if not the finish. At the other end, Ramsey nipped in and put the Chelsea defence under pressure before Koulibaly intervened.
Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital have said they plan on being less impatient than previous owner Roman Abramovich. Given this, surely sacking a second manager in the same season would be anathema to the ownership? But Potter does look out of his depth. His passionate inspiration and tactical nous both seem to have been left behind at the Amex Stadium. Equipped with an expensive, talented but disparate squad, it is simply not working. There was a time when fans would talk about beating Chelsea for weeks. The biggest crime of the Potter era is the fact that teams like Villa now beat them and move on, as if they expected to do so.
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