LONDON: Chelsea overcame obdurate opposition from Aston Villa to secure a hard-fought 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday that maintained their early momentum in the fledgling Premier League season.
Breezy 2-0 victors over Hull City in their opening game on Sunday, Chelsea had to dig much deeper against Paul Lambert’s side but eventually prevailed through a header from Branislav Ivanovic with 17 minutes to play.
As against Hull, Chelsea had taken an early lead, this time through an own goal from Antonio Luna, but Villa refused to roll over and claimed an equaliser on the stroke of half-time when Christian Benteke lashed home.
Victory in an occasionally ill-tempered game, brought forward due to Chelsea’s involvement in the UEFA Super Cup on August 30, will give Jose Mourinho enhanced belief that his side are ready for the battle sure to await them at Manchester United on Monday.
Villa manager Lambert, meanwhile, will take solace from the doggedness of his side’s display, four days on from their shock 3-1 win at Arsenal and eight months after a humiliating 8-0 defeat on the same pitch.
Mourinho made two changes to the team that beat Hull, introducing Demba Ba and Juan Mata in place of Kevin De Bruyne and Fernando Torres, while Ciaran Clark replaced the injured Nathan Baker at centre-back for Villa.
Chelsea had taken the lead after 13 minutes against Hull and they were just as quick off the mark against Villa.
This time the visiting team held out for only seven minutes, although there was more than a touch of fortune about the goal.
Oscar released Eden Hazard with an incisive pass down the inside-left channel and although Brad Guzan parried the Belgian’s shot, the ball bounced off inrushing defender Luna and into the net.
Despite the early goal, Chelsea were not nearly as dominant as they had been against Hull and Villa might have equalised sooner had Andreas Weimann not completely miscued his header from Luna’s cross in the 20th minute.
There was a blow for the visitors shortly before half-time, as Clark had to go off after an inadvertent kick from Ba left him with blood streaming down his face. New signing Jores Okore came on in his place.
They finished the half with a stoppage-time flourish, however, as Gabriel Agbonlahor powered down the left flank before squaring for Benteke to smash home an equaliser off the left-hand post.
Villa’s tactic of withdrawing 10 men behind the ball when Chelsea had possession frustrated the hosts, and Agbonlahor almost put Villa ahead on the hour with a first-time curler that cleared the crossbar by inches.
The volume inside the stadium rose as the intensity of the on-pitch challenges increased and the noise reached a crescendo in the 73rd minute when Ivanovic met Lampard’s deep free-kick with a bullet header to put Chelsea ahead.
Villa created one golden chance for a second equaliser, but when Benteke’s knock-down fell to Weimann in the 86th minute, Cech came to the rescue by blocking with his legs.
There was an even bigger scare for the hosts in injury time, when the ball appeared to strike John Terry’s arm inside the Chelsea box, but referee Kevin Friend did not put his whistle to his lips and Mourinho’s men escaped.
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