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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Crisis? What crisis? Beset by injuries, Chelsea saved their best performance of the season so far for the day when the smart money was on Aston Villa to end that long unbeaten home run of theirs. Luiz Felipe Scolari's walking wounded preserved their record in a magnificent first half before easing themselves over the line to secure their position at the top of the Premier League.

Aston Villa have been rightly lauded this season for combining the most important aspects of old-fashioned English football with the most vital prerequsites of the modern game. Power and work-rate, in other words, married with scorching pace and counter-attacking trickery. Here, on a miserable afternoon in South London, they were taught a lesson in just how effective those attributes can be. Chelsea tore through their ranks with an emphatic display of exquisite one-touch passing and, on the rare occasion that Villa had the audacity to try and cross the half-way line, they ruthlessly snuffed them out in midfield. Even Joe Cole was hammering back across the half-way line to get stuck in, a sight that tells you all you need to know about the spirit in this side.

Had it not been for the reflexes of veteran goalkeeper Brad Friedel, this could have been a lot worse. Aston Villa simply could not get themselves into the game. Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor couldn't have been any more anonymous without replacing the names on the back of their shirts with question marks and the threat of John Carew was comfortably neutralised by John Terry. At the back, they were over-run, notably on the left flank where Ashley Cole and Florent Malouda excelled.

Chelsea's injuries are so bad that even Branislav Ivanovic is getting a game. The Serbian defender, signed by Avram Grant in January for SG$27m, had to wait eight months for his Chelsea debut, appearing against Portsmouth in the Carling Cup last month, and this was his first excursion in the Premier League. He couldn't have picked a much easier day to start. When he was called upon, he performed his duty well, hurling himself at Ashley Young's first half cross to divert it for a corner on the only occasion that Villa threatened before the break.

Regardless of this result, Scolari will be cursing his luck as his casualties increase. The danger of returning half-fit players to action too soon is that they can all too easily break down again. Nicolas Anelka and Joe Cole had to be withdrawn early, but John Terry, typically, rode out the storm. Admittedly, he had to suffer the indignity of having his shorts pulled down by a physio charged with the unenviable task of repairing his wounded buttock, but it takes more than that to fell the England captain.

With Chelsea's injury list getting so long that it must now constitute two bits of paper attached by sticky-tape, their title hopes remain vulnerable. Someday, someone is going to come to Stamford Bridge and win, but if Aston Villa, the best team outside the big four, can't beat them in this state, who can?

STEAMROLLER - Chelsea's superiority was emphatic that, no word of a lie, they could have rattled five or six goals in before half-time. That they didn't is purely due to the efforts of Brad Friedel and nothing to do with the hapless charlatans that Aston Villa dared to list in the match programme as 'defenders'.

ON FIRE - Frank Lampard is in the form of his career. The personal tragedy that cast a shadow over his year only seems to have spurred him on to greater heights. In possession and off the ball, Lampard gave a virtuoso performance. Magnificent stuff

NO FIREPOWER - Where was the Aston Villa that we've all cooed over so far this season? John Carew was lightweight and harmless, Gabriel Agbonlahor was missing, presumed marked out of the game and Ashley Young could only make sporadic contributions. Villa simply never threatened.

PUNTERS RANT - With the mounting injury list, there must have been a lot of money riding on Aston Villa for this one. I thought they were gonig to end Chelsea's record, which is as good a reason to back the Blues as any you'll find elsewhere. At least Martin O'Neill had the good grace to look embarrassed afterwards at Villa's impotence.

MAN OF THE MATCH - It's a close-run thing but I have to give it to Ashley Cole. Scolari's insistence that his full-backs push up as wingers has rejuvenated the tiny defender, who looked tired and stale last season. Today was his best performance of the season, and possibly his career at Stamford Bridge.



Petr Cech 7, Branislav Ivanovic 7, Ashley Cole 8, Frank Lampard 8, Joe Cole 7 (Saloman Kalou 6), John Obi Mikel 7, Michael Ballack 7, Florent Malouda 8 (Juliano Belletti 6), Jose Bosingwa 7, John Terry 7, Nicolas Anelka 7 (Franco di Santo 6)

Aston Villa

Brad Friedel 7, Luke Young 5 (James Milner 6), Martin Laursen 6, Gareth Barry 5, Ashely Young 5, John Carew 4 (Marlon Harewood 6), Gabriel Agbonlahor 5, Curtis Davis 4 (Carlos Cuellar 5), Stilian Petrov 5, Nigel Reo-Coker 5, Nicky Shorey 4

Yellow Cards- Cuellar, Petrov (Aston Villa)

Red Cards - None

Attendance - 41, 593