Chelsea 2 Aston Villa 1 - Report and pictures
Tammy Abraham will always be admired at Villa for the part he played in the club’s promotion but on Wednesday night the striker provided a painful and unwanted reminder of his qualities.
The 22-year-old, who plundered 26 goals while on loan at Villa Park last season, netted his 13th of the season to set parent club Chelsea on course for a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge.
Abraham then provided the assist for his young England team-mate, Mason Mount, to deliver the killer blow, volleying home superbly early in the second half after the visitors had pulled level through Trezeguet.
The victory was a deserved one for a Chelsea team who showed precisely why they are battling it out to be the best of the rest in the Premier League behind runaway leaders Liverpool.
But for two brilliant saves from Villa keeper Tom Heaton, both times denying Willian, the hosts would have won by more.
Defeat for Villa, on assistant boss John Terry’s return to Chelsea, was no disgrace. Despite some impressive performances against the big guns this season, these are not the games upon which their season will be judged.
The loss does, however, leave them just one point above the relegation zone ahead of Sunday’s visit of Leicester. This portion of the season certainly gets no easier.
With Anwar El Ghazi out with a knee injury and Frederic Guilbert suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season in last Sunday’s draw with Manchester United, changes to Villa’s team were inevitable.
Ahmed Elmohamady and Trezeguet both came into the team, with Smith also opting to hand Marvelous Nakamba a recall in midfield at the expense of Douglas Luiz.
Abraham started up front for Chelsea after recovering from the hip problem which had seen him miss their 1-0 defeat to West Ham.
Chelsea were the brighter team from the first whistle and carved out the first chance when Willian shot strongly but straight at Heaton, after Christian Pulisic had run more than 40 yards against a backtracking Villa defence.
Abraham looked lively from the start and it needed a key intervention from Conor Hourihane to prevent the striker getting a clean strike from 12 yards out.
Villa’s brightest moments came when Jack Grealish had the ball and Smith sent the best part of a bottle of water flying when his skipper was upended by Andreas Christensen on the edge of the box but referee Chris Kavanagh waved play on.
It wasn’t the only time the Villa boss let rip at the referee during the half but the performance of his team would have concerned him more and Chelsea’s opener, when it arrived on 24 minutes, was deserved.
Neither was the scorer surprising. Willian found Reece James on the right flank and his cross was nodded beyond Heaton by Abraham, who had ghosted in behind Ezri Konsa.
The striker showed respect to the visiting supporters by refusing to celebrate but nearly soured their mood further by setting up a likely second for Pulisic soon after, Matt Targett getting a crucial touch to divert his pass.
Villa needed to knock the hosts off their stride and at least began to show more fire with Grealish getting into a spat with Mateo Kovacic, before John McGinn rowed with Cesar Azpilicueta.
Then, four minutes before the break, they produced a fine move to pull level. Neat interchange between Grealish, McGinn and Elmohamady ended with the latter crossing for Trezeguet to score, his fellow Egyptian international heading the ball onto his foot before it flew into the bottom corner. It was an ugly finish to a lovely passage of play.
Villa began the second half looking like a team buoyed with fresh hope but within three minutes they were trailing again thanks to a piece of magic from Mount.
Willian crossed from the right and Abraham chested the ball into the path of his England team-mate, who sent a fierce first time volley beyond Heaton and into the roof of the net.
It was a stunning goal which put Villa on the back foot again, with only a fine save from Heaton denying Willian a goal which would have likely ended the contest before the hour mark.
Smith replaced Hourihane with Luiz in an attempt to give Villa a greater midfield presence but Grealish could not produce the spectacular when he attempted an audacious volley from Trezeguet’s cross.
The visitors defending, meanwhile, was increasingly last-ditch, Azpilicueta shooting wide after Mings had intervened to deny Abraham a tap in.
Mount then saw a shot flick off Konsa and fly just over the bar, before Abraham missed the chance to put the match to bed when he sent a finish just wide of the far post with just Heaton to beat.
Villa’s keeper then produced a superb save to tip a Willian free-kick onto the post and keep his team in it.
You sensed a chance would fall to the visitors and it came to Luiz, his header forcing Kepa into a full-length save. But a leveller would in truth have been harsh on Chelsea, who held on to a deserved win.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa, James, Zouma, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Kovacevic, Kante, Mount, Willian (Jorginho 90+1), Abraham (Batshuayi 83), Pulisic (Hudson-Odoi 86) Subs not used: Giroud,, Tomori, Emerson, Caballero (gk).
Villa (4-3-3): Heaton, Elmohamady, Konsa, Mings, Targett, McGinn, Nakamba, Hourihane (Luiz 58), Trezeguet (Jota 76), Wesley, Grealish Subs not used: Taylor, Engels, Lansbury, Kodjia, Nyland (gk).