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Chelsea Fight-back Thwarted By Villa


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Chelsea FC 3-3 Aston Villa

Sunday 2 January 2011, the FA Premier League, Stamford Bridge

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Aston Villa withstood a late Chelsea onslaught to score an unlikely equaliser to ultimately end the champions' title hopes in a pulsating game at Stamford Bridge.

Following their 1-0 win over Bolton in midweek, most people had tipped Chelsea to continue their revival with a win over their Midlands opponents, who have suffered an equally shocking decline in recent weeks. Three points would have been vital for Chelsea in continuing their improbable chase for the title, especially with Tottenham's victory on Saturday knocking the Blues out of the Champions League positions. Instead, another frustrating result ensures both teams now occupy the lower echelons of the form table - merely two wins have been achieved in the last eleven fixtures featuring either of the sides.

The champions are now six points behind Manchester United having played a game more, but more worryingly, they are also a point outside of the Champions League places. Not only must the Blues concede defeat in defence of the title, but they are also in a fight for a place in Europe's premier competition next term considering the recent form of Sir Alex Ferguson's league leaders and their cross-town rivals City, as well as the resurgent Tottenham and Arsenal emerging as genuine title contenders.

A draw comes as a bitter double-blow for Chelsea as not only does it show the Bolton win to be something of a false dawn, it also means the Blues have lost further ground on the top four after victories for each over the course of the weekend. In addition, it goes to underline the fact that Chelsea have not won a single home league match in which they have conceded this season - whilst the Blues have also surrendered their status of being the Premier League's meanest defence.

On a plus side for Carlo Ancelotti's side - who have now amassed their lowest tally of points after 20 matches since 2002 - it was a much-improved performance from Chelsea, who responded well after conceding so early in the second half. Nevertheless, the ounce of passion and commitment demonstrated will do little to hide the Blues' defensive woes, highlighted by the numerous mistakes at the back.

The initial perpetrator was Paulo Ferreira, failing to clear the ball when under pressure. Opting to try and play the ball out for a goal kick off of a Villa player, the ball fell the way of the visitors and a mindless hack inside the penalty area later by Michael Essien allowed Ashley Young to blast home an equalising goal after Frank Lampard had fired the Blues ahead in similar circumstances.

Pivotal in the opening goal, Florent Malouda had been lively early on having forced a good save out of Brad Friedel with an acrobatic effort - and he won a penalty for the hosts when he was wrestled to the ground by James Collins. Lampard duly fired home just his second goal of the season from the spot - a welcome relief to the England midfielder and Chelsea fans alike considering their number 8's poor form from twelve yards for club and country.

Another frustrating half of football had left Chelsea heads in hands, but things took a turn for the worse just 86 seconds into the second period when Emile Heskey netted from Stuart Downing's cross; rising above Jeffrey Bruma to power the ball beyond a beleaguered Petr Cech. It was the former Leicester striker's seventh goal against the Blues, and much like his equaliser in 2008 for Wigan in a 1-1 draw, this would be the goal that ultimately ended Chelsea's title hopes.

Most people would accredit that particular feat to Villa's Ciaran Clark for his late, late leveller, but Heskey's goal was a fatal blow. It took them 40 minutes to rally with a final flourish when the game looked up - if they'd have been able to keep things tight at the back then a win would have looked so much more likely. Instead, Heskey's header left Chelsea spitting blood. The lion's share of the ball would obviously belong to the hosts - Villa had set up early on in a defensive formation and they resorted to that after their brilliant start to the second half. But with the wind knocked out of their sails by Villa strikes minutes either side of the interval, the ultimate smash-and-grab looked on for the visitors.

Chelsea had to turn to a double change down the right-hand side - with Kalou and Bosingwa finally giving the Blues some potency - before they could hope to get back into the match. And Kalou almost made an instant impact when he effortlessly dribbled beyond challenge after challenge but his cut-back was intercepted, and the one time the Blues opened up the Villa defence, Frank Lampard's volley was saved brilliantly by Friedel after Malouda had set up the England star to smash goalwards.

The American goalkeeper then rescued his side once again when he bravely blocked at the feet of Malouda, but he could do nothing when Drogba finally woke up and smashed home the equaliser. Kalou did the leg work and forced a quite brilliant save out of Villa's custodian, but he was helpless as the anonymous Drogba helped himself to the rebound to restart the Chelsea onslaught - though it was a goal the Ivorian certainly did not deserve after a torrid 85 minutes.

But with Drogba suddenly jumping to attention and Daniel Sturridge's pace adding to the Blues' fire-power, chances were suddenly becoming more clear-cut. However it was a combination between three defensive-minded players that led to what should have been the game-winning goal, as Bosingwa's persistence allowed Essien to steal in and cross to the unmarked John Terry, who volleyed home his 40th goal for the club.

But further defensive lapses allowed the unmarked Ciaran Clark to nod the ball beyond Cech in the 91st minute to secure a draw for the visitors. With 80 minutes gone it seemed as if the Villains were destined to take all three points, but come the time of Clark's late leveller, it was a goal that had rescued them an unlikely draw. The game had hinged around 9 second half minutes, and inside that space Chelsea's title challenge had been both reignited and extinguished in a fatal flurry of goalmouth action.

The game might underline Chelsea's many flaws, but it importantly highlights two key points. Firstly, it shows that Nicolas Anelka and Paulo Ferreira must not start the next match -namely because Jose Bosingwa and Salomon Kalou did nothing but fashion chances with their speed and movement - but also because Messrs Anelka and Ferreira endured terrible displays.

Secondly, it shows Roman Abramovich we need to spend this January to save our campaign after the irreversible damage delivered today.

A midweek game against Wolves could see the mood change dramatically should the Blues pick up three points, but it is evident that Chelsea must turn their attentions towards the Champions League and the FA Cup to ensure this season's shortcomings do not lead to a disastrous conclusion come the summer.

The final line is that Chelsea are not going to win the Premier League title this season - that much is obvious. Instead we face a fight to qualify for the Champions League next season - it seems our best chance of appearing in the competition next term would be to win the competition at Wembley in May! That being said, considering the fight and passion demonstrated by the players on the pitch after Terry's late strike, it is apparent that the Blues will not surrender their title without a battle. Chelsea will not win the Premier League this season, but that doesn't mean we can't give its defence a good go from now until May.

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Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira (Bosingwa 56), Bruma, Terry ©, Cole; Essien, Ramires (Kalou 72), Lampard; Anelka (Sturridge 78), Drogba, Malouda.

Aston Villa (4-4-1-1): Friedel; Cuellar, Dunne, Collins, Clark; Downing, Reo-Coker, Petrov ©, Agbonlahor (Albrighton 84); Young; Heskey.

The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match was Chelsea's number 26, John Terry

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I seem to remember everyone saying that Arsenal would not win the title about 3 or 4 times last season everytime they were about 8-9 points behind the leaders, but they came back everytime and challenged for the title until about matchday 36 when it became mathematically impossible.

Frankly this pathetic attitude of 'we are not going to win the Premier league' is the reson why are poor form is continuing. How can we get a good run of form if both the fans and players give such a pathetic pessmistic view of life which makes the players act like they facing relegation battle and their next win in the race is against Barceolona. Cheer up you pathetic fuckheads!

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We must not give up, but the chances of winning the title are lower now. We had to win today, we didn't. If we keep losing points like today, we won't be winning the title. Teams that have been in deep crisis have never won the title, it's hard to come back from crisis and win it, almost impossible. We got beaten 3-0 at home by Sunderland, lost to Birmingham away, we lost games that we shouldn't have. I'm not expecting us to win the Premier League this year, I'm hoping for the Champions League.

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Frankly this pathetic attitude of 'we are not going to win the Premier league' is the reson why are poor form is continuing.

I really don't think what the fans think is going to make a load of £100,000-a-week footballers perform any differently. The fact of the matter is we are not going to win the league. It is not about being optimistic or pessimistic. Its about being realistic, and the fact is we are not good enough.

Cheer up you pathetic fuckheads!

We'll see who's right come the end of the season.

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I really don't think what the fans think is going to make a load of £100,000-a-week footballers perform any differently. The fact of the matter is we are not going to win the league. It is not about being optimistic or pessimistic. Its about being realistic, and the fact is we are not good enough.

We'll see who's right come the end of the season.

But it is a bit of an oxymoron when you put the phrase "Chelsea will not win the Premier League this season" and "but that doesn't we can't give its defence a good go from now until May". As a player why would they put a lot of effort into trying to defend the PL if they take the view that they are not going to win it anyway, whats the point. Its exactly what I mean by saying its a pathetic attitude, how can we get out of this bad form if the thinking from players and fans is so negative that we don't even bother and try and give it what we have got if in the back of the mind we already know its a lost cause?

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But it is a bit of an oxymoron when you put the phrase "Chelsea will not win the Premier League this season" and "but that doesn't we can't give its defence a good go from now until May". As a player why would they put a lot of effort into trying to defend the PL if they take the view that they are not going to win it anyway, whats the point. Its exactly what I mean by saying its a pathetic attitude, how can we get out of this bad form if the thinking from players and fans is so negative that we don't even bother and try and give it what we have got if in the back of the mind we already know its a lost cause?

I just think you're taking what I put wrong, but I can see your point mate. What I'm saying is we should be realistic that we aren't going to win the title, but with that said and done, that shouldn't stop us from defending our title and at least making it a respectable attempt in doing so. It is a lost cause in my eyes. I hope I'm wrong, I really do.

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