Chelsea were slow out of the blocks after half-time and conceded a poor goal by their standards when Jores Okore was allowed to head home while completely unmarked. The visitors’ passing had been poor all afternoon but the equaliser seemed to spark them into life and they gradually managed to put more pressure on their opponents before Ivanovic’s volleyed winner. Happy to sit off and protect what they had, the Blues denied Villa any more attacking opportunities, and the points were in the bag.
A sensational strike form Branislav Ivanovic gave Chelsea a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park. It was a far from convincing performance from the Blues but they were still able to seal the win, which stretches their lead at the top of the Premier League to seven points after Manchester City could only draw at home with Hull.
Chelsea started the game in the best possible fashion with an excellent counterattack rounded off by Eden Hazard after just eight minutes. It should have been the signal for the floodgates to open but some sloppy play when in good areas meant that the initiative was ceded and Villa were allowed a foothold in the game.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 — Had his worst game in a Chelsea shirt as he fumbled the ball on several occasions. Perturbed by the physical pressure exerted upon him by the Villa forwards, he was unable to settle, but he had no chance of stopping the equalising goal.
DF Branislav Ivanovic, 8 — Completely lost his man to allow the hosts to level the score but more than made up for it with a sweetly struck left-foot shot that almost burst the net. Defended well in the closing stages, neutralising any threat down his flank
DF John Terry, 7 — Organised the defence with his usual authority and ensured the team retained its shape, especially in the last 10 minutes. Showed some lovely touches on the ball including a delightful back-heel of which Cesc Fabregas would have been proud.
DF Gary Cahill, 7 — The England international was recalled to the starting lineup against his former club and did not put a foot wrong. Strong in the air and positionally sound, his confidence did not appear dented from his spell out of the side.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 — Like many of his teammates he was not as precise with his passing as he should have been, though his positional sense was excellent again.
MF Nemanja Matic, 7 — Veered between excellent and average as his peerless ball-winning skills were often undermined by poor use of it when in possession. Regained his composure on the ball as the game wore on.
MF Ramires, 7 — The Brazilian’s energy was a huge asset as Aston Villa grew into the game. Occasionally lost the man he was supposed to be tracking, but more often than not he was able to recover.
MF Oscar, 7 — Did brilliantly well to create the opening goal with his clever run and patient use of the ball allowing him to combine with Willian and Hazard. Faded as the game progressed and was replaced as Chelsea sought to protect their lead.
FW Willian, 7 — As ever, the former Shakhtar man worked his socks off in defence to help out Ivanovic behind him. Was also useful in attack with his neat layoff resulting in the opening goal
FW Eden Hazard, 8 — Uncharacteristically, the little Belgian gave the ball away cheaply on a couple of occasions but was always the biggest threat to the Villa defence. Took his goal beautifully and was a menace whenever in possession.
FW Didier Drogba, 5 — The Chelsea legend had a game to forget as nothing went his way throughout his time on the pitch. Ponderous when in possession and unable to pick a pass, he even found himself muscled off the ball as he struggled to summon his trademark body strength. Lasted an hour but could have been brought off much earlier.
FW Loic Remy, 7 — Fresh from scoring against Manchester City, Remy will have been disappointed not to start against Villa but still showed his class after being introduced. Held the ball up well and linked cleverly with his teammates to surely claim a place in Wednesday’s starting XI against Everton.
MF Join Obi Mikel, N/R — Brought on to shore up the centre of the pitch in the last quarter of an hour and did his job well enough even though there was an anxious moment when a quick pass on the edge of the area went straight to a Villa shirt.
FW Juan Cuadrado, N/R — The Colombian came on for his debut with just 10 minutes to go and showed glimpses of the talent that persuaded Chelsea to move for him as the transfer window drew to a close.