Aston Villa end goal drought but can’t stop rampant Chelsea

Aston Villa 1 Chelsea 2: This felt like a defining day in the destiny of this season’s Premier League title race.

Aston Villa end goal drought but can’t stop rampant Chelsea

Manchester City’s draw against Hull City enabled Chelsea, the league leaders, to stretch their advantage to seven points.

Perhaps that – in addition to the fact that this, somewhat curiously, was a first triumph at Villa Park — explained why Jose Mourinho, fists pumping as he orchestrated the celebrations on the field following the final whistle, appeared so emboldened by this success.

Those emotions were heavily at odds with the previous occasion he had ventured onto this pitch 11 months ago when he was dismissed for his protests against a Ramires red card in a 1-0 defeat to Villa.

That had resulted in Mourinho’s team ending the day six points, rather than a potential nine, clear of City, who had three games in hand. The rest is history.

The absence of games in hand for City apart, the scenario is eerily similar.

It is one potential reasoning for his cautious rhetoric post match, a world apart from his exuberance at the end of the encounter.

“If we have a seven-point lead with three matches to go we still need two points,” he added. “It is not three matches to go. It is 14.”

It is a season for Chelsea which promises to be defined by the bloody-minded potency of Diego Costa, the craft of Cesc Fabregas and the emergence of a new custodian for the next decade and beyond in Thibaut Courtois.

They, it increasingly appears, represent the final pieces in the jigsaw puzzle standing between Mourinho and, nine years on since his previous triumph, a third Barclays Premier League title.

There is then, of course, the elusive excellence of Eden Hazard – whose early goal, a seamless sweeping home of Willian’s measured pass, had pointed towards a procession failed to materialise — not to mention, in Nemanja Matic, a forceful fulcrum unsurpassed at Stamford Bridge since Claude Makelele.

Some way down that list of key contributors, for the vast majority, would be Branislav Ivanovic.

When it was put to Mourinho that the Serbia international represented an unsung hero in his team, the Portuguese required further explanation on the meaning of the term.

Even then, such is the value he evidently places on the player, it was a notion he failed to identify with.

“What really matters more is what we as a club feel for him” the manager said.

“A team is an artist like Hazard, it is a defender like Branislav. The mix and combination of talent makes a team.”

One of Chelsea’s best signings? “I think so,” the Portuguese said. “He has made a fantastic contribution here. He is a competitive animal. A big heart.”

Chelsea find themselves at Wembley to contest the Capital One Cup final courtesy of his semi-final extra-time winner against Liverpool. He did so playing with a blood-soaked right boot after suffering a cut to his foot.

His winner at Manchester City last season ended their 100 per cent league home record.

And, here, a timely riposte to Jores Okore’s headed equaliser – which finally broke Villa’s league goal drought at precisely the eleven-hour mark — when he dispatched Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross with a half-volley of clinical precision.

“Every striker in the world would be proud to score that magnificent goal,” Mourinho said.

“So imagine a right-back, whose best foot is not the left one? Amazing. And it is the winning goal.”

Villa may have scored but what remains of alarm is that they are nine matches without a top-flight victory — a run which has left them perilously placed above the relegation zone.

A pivotal six-pointer at Hull City now awaits tomorrow evening.

“It’s a really big game,” Okore said. “These are the matches you need to win.”

Can we forget about City and the title? Chelsea are certainly a different beast this season, which has resulted in a power shift from sky to royal blue.

Whether Mourinho is prepared to admit to it or not, with each week the conviction grows that they will not surrender such an advantage again.

The key? That summer business, with a little help from those reliable old lieutenants like Ivanovic.

ASTON VILLA (4-3-3): Guzan 6; Hutton 6, Okore 7, Clark 6, Cissokho 6; Westwood 6, Delph 7, Cleverley 5 (Sinclair 74); Gil 7, Agbonlahor 5 (Benteke 68 5), Weimann 5 (Cole 80).

Subs not used: Given, Vlaar, Bacuna, Sánchez .

CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Courtois 6; Ivanovic 8, Cahill 7, Terry 7, Azpilicueta 7; Ramires 7, Matic 7; Willian 8 (Cuadrado 80), Oscar 7 (Mikel 73), Hazard 8; Drogba 5 (Remy 64, 6).

Subs not used: Cech, Zouma, Aké, Loftus-Cheek.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick.

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