Aston Villa 2-4 Chelsea: Torres rounds off perfect week as Blues reignite their challenge for a top four place
Roberto Di Matteo's side claimed back-to-back wins despite a late comeback from the hosts, thanks to a double from the defender and a late settler from the Spanish striker
By Jay Jaffa
A Branislav Ivanovic double was sandwiched between goals from Daniel Sturridge and Fernando Torres as Chelsea resisted an Aston Villa comeback to secure all three points as they made it six wins from eight games under Roberto Di Matteo.
Aston Villa's inexperienced line-up were guilty of some sloppy defending that Sturridge punished clinically in the first half and Ivanovic twice in the second period, while Torres was a textbook counter-attack in the dying seconds.
The hosts did show some fight as James Collins' firm header pulled a goal back before Eric Lichaj equalised but that merely provoked Chelsea to score two more after almost passing themselves into a stupor.
On an emotional day and with little left to play for, Alex McLeish opted to pick a youthful starting eleven. Nathan Baker, Gary Gardner and Andreas Weimann all started, replacing Alan Hutton, Emile Heskey and Stilyan Petrov, who chose to attend the game after his leukaemia diagnosis.
Didier Drogba was missing for Chelsea with a toe injury, so Torres led the line, whilst Ivanovic returned from injury.
Aston Villa's inexperience showed immediately as they fell behind with just nine minutes on the clock.
|TORRES ON TARGET
| PLAYER RATING
|8.5||Looked very sharp up top and produced some moments of brilliance as well as dangerous runs in behind the Villa back four. Was involved in Chelsea's opener and the winner. Should have scored very early on but was denied by Given. Scored the winner after Villa's fightback as well, the Spanish forward is most certainly back.|
Steven Warnock pull off an excellent block as Torres seemed set to score, but Sturridge pounced to slam the ball home and crown his 50th Chelsea appearance with a goal.
Villa's untried forward line showed glimpses of promise as Weimann dropped deep to combine well with his captain Gabby Agbonlahor but both struggled to create a clear goalscoring opportunity in the opening stages.
On the 19th minute, Villa Park rose to support the club captain Petrov, delivering a minute's applause and it almost culminated in an equaliser as Collins nodded a corner just over the bar.
However, Villa's frailties at the back were exposed again as Mata linked well with Kalou to find a route to goal. His lifted finish beat Given but struck the post and the rebound from Torres was blocked by a determined Nathan Baker.
As half-time approached, Villa carved their best chance as Barry Bannan controlled Weimann's cross on the right side of the area. His lay-off to Agbonlahor gave the striker the space to strike low at goal but Petr Cech saved fantastically with his legs after initially misreading the direction of the effort.
Seconds before the interval, Gary Cahill replaced Luiz who appeared to have picked up a minor knock.
Despite an encouraging spell of possession from the hosts after the break, Chelsea doubled their lead with their first meaningful attack just five minutes later.
Mata's corner evaded Frank Lampard at the near post and landed invitingly at Ivanovic's feet. The Serbian defender accepted the gift, smashing a snapshot past Given for his first league goal of the season.
Florent Malouda came on for Mata and went up front – an indication of how lightly the visitors were taking the final stages.
But there was a twist as Collins met a long throw to plant his header past Cech and give Villa a goal. Suddenly, the fans in the Holte End awoke and there was a game on once again.
Villa buoyed by a rare goal, pressed Chelsea as they sought an unlikely equaliser. Mark Albrighton collected the ball on the left flank before attacking Ivanovic.
His low cross travelled between Cech and his defenders and as Ashley Cole showed trepidation at the back post, Lichaj arrived to poke home Villa's second. Chelsea had thrown it away.
Or had they? Di Matteo's side showed the response expected from Champions League quarter-finalists and Ivanovic headed home his second of the game from another corner.
Villa pressed for another late surprise but, this time, the Chelsea defence held firm, led by captain John Terry. Sturridge led a last minute counter-attack and he assisted Torres for a rare goal as he controlled the pass and smashed the ball low past Given.
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