Once the tributes to John Terry were done, Chelsea got on with showing their former captain the future. There is no place for sentiment in the heat of battle and Frank Lampard’s academy products made sure Aston Villa’s assistant manager did not enjoy his big homecoming too much, earning three important points thanks to excellent goals from Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount.
This was a fine victory for Chelsea after their aberration against West Ham. Mount was back to his enterprising best in midfield and Lampard’s side, sitting pretty in fourth place, did well to regain their poise after gifting Villa a soft equaliser on the stroke of half-time. Chelsea created countless chances during the second half and Terry must have known the visitors, a point above the bottom three, were fortunate not to lose by more.
Chelsea could not afford to let the nostalgia spilling from the stands blur their focus. They had to ignore the fuss over Terry’s return to the club he captained for 13 glorious years and they had to be ruthless after stumbling against West Ham last weekend. There have been too many slow starts from Chelsea at home this season and they bristled with intensity from the first whistle, pinning Villa back and dominating a lopsided first half.
Villa, who sat deep in the hope of frustrating their hosts, struggled to live with Chelsea’s speed at times. There were ominous signs as early as the fifth minute, when Christian Pulisic charged unopposed through the middle before teeing up Willian to sting Tom Heaton’s palms, and it was not particularly encouraging when a botched clearance from Tyrone Mings gifted Abraham a glimpse of goal. The Villa centre-back was relieved to see Abraham fluff his volley.
With N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovacic in control in midfield, the question during the early stages was whether Chelsea could find a cutting edge. They needed more from Mason Mount and there were times when they seemed to be grasping for inspiration. Mount fired high and wide after wriggling into space on the edge of the area and Villa were beginning to gain confidence at the back after making it through the opening 20 minutes without giving any real opportunities..
The good news, though, was that Abraham was back after missing the defeat by West Ham with a hip injury. The striker’s mobility makes such a difference to Chelsea’s attack and he was merciless when his chance arrived in the 24th minute. Reece James dinked a lovely cross into the middle from the right and Abraham, who scored 26 goals during his loan spell at Villa last season, peeled away from Ezri Konsa before planting an accurate header beyond Heaton.
Yet frailties lingered at the other end. Chelsea’s defence lacks a leader in the Terry mould these days and Villa, who had offered nothing on the ball for much of the half, conjured an equaliser out of the blue in the 41st minute. Jack Grealish drifted inside from the left in search of the ball and when it was worked out to Ahmed Elmohamady on the right, James’s failure to react to the Egyptian’s cross at the far post allowed Trézéguet to bundle a messy finish past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
It was naive defending from James, a 19-year-old right-back who still has much to learn, but inconsistency is inevitable from such a young team. It is part of Chelsea’s appeal and they demonstrated the benefits of youthful exuberance early in the second half, Abraham’s clever chest control from Willian’s chip giving Mount the chance to adjust his body and slash a beautiful volley high to Heaton’s left.
Mount’s first goal since 6 October lightened the mood and Chelsea continued to squeeze Villa. Willian saw a deflected cross spin inches wide and the Brazilian forced Heaton to make an excellent save with a fierce drive in the 61st minute. Villa were clinging on and their difficulties were encapsulated by Grealish, who had appealed unsuccessfully for a penalty during the first half, sliding into the advertising hoardings after being hounded off the ball by Kanté.
Taunted by the crowd all night, Grealish was looking increasingly flustered and his woes deepened when he spurned a decent opportunity, swiping at thin air at the far post. It was turning into a tough night for Villa’s biggest creative threat.
The only worry for Chelsea was their inability to make sure of the win. Mount went close from 25 yards, Abraham dinked wide after being played through on goal, Pulisic was denied after wriggling into the area from the left and Willian had a free-kick tipped on to a post by Heaton. Somehow Villa were alive in the closing stages and they almost snatched an undeserved point when Arrizabalaga kept out a late header from Douglas Luiz.