Chelsea’s stuttering start to the Premier League season took another turn for the worse as Aston Villa piled more misery on the 10-man Blues with victory at Stamford Bridge.
Ollie Watkins fired home an unerring winner between the legs of Robert Sanchez from an incredibly tight angle as Villa capitalised on Malo Gusto’s dismissal for dangerous play.
Mauricio Pochettino’s hosts fashioned plenty of chances before Gusto’s red card for a poorly-timed tackle that caught Lucas Digne on the ankle but, as so often this season, failed to take any of them.
Nicolas Jackson and Raheem Sterling were both denied one-on-one by excellent Emiliano Martinez saves while Enzo Fernandez sliced another glorious opportunity wide.
Chelsea had been equally indebted to their own goalkeeper as Sanchez made a pair of flying fingertip saves to thwart beautifully-struck volleys by Digne and Nicolo Zaniolo.
There were chances at both ends even after Gusto was sent off but Villa, who climb to sixth, took one of theirs via Watkins, while Chelsea failed to score for a third successive game to stay 14th.
More headaches for Pochettino
Chelsea’s only wins in their seven games under Pochettino have come against Luton and AFC Wimbledon and the injury-hit Blues will be cursing their luck after a second successive home defeat.
They will feel Villa’s winner was a tad fortunate as Levi Colwill did brilliantly to block Watkins’ initial effort but the ball ricocheted kindly for the striker to squeeze home a fine finish at the second attempt.
An Axel Disasi header narrowly ruled out for offside at the end of the first half will add to the Blues’ belief that little is going their way – but they are hardly helping themselves either.
Gusto’s red-card challenge was not malicious but it was ill-judged and was always going to be upgraded from yellow when the video assistant referee intervened, while the Blues’ finishing was once again simply not up to scratch.
Admittedly, Martinez did excellently to win his one-on-one duels with Jackson, Sterling and, later, substitute Ben Chilwell, but Chelsea should have converted at least one of those chances.
And to add to Pochettino’s headaches, with about a dozen players out injured, Jackson will join the suspended Gusto on the sidelines for their next game after collecting a fifth booking in just six matches.
Watkins back on the goal trail
While Chelsea are enduring their worst start to a campaign in eight years – since Jose Mourinho’s dire final season at Stamford Bridge – Villa continue to look a club on the up under Unai Emery.
True, they sat off for much of the first half and needed some magic from Martinez to keep Chelsea at bay, but Villa also created chances of their own and really took the initiative after Gusto’s sending off.
The win will be a welcome one after a surprise Europa League defeat at Legia Warsaw in midweek – and the manner in which it came will be a relief to Watkins, who had scored just once in his past 12 league outings.
The England striker had, however, netted 11 times in the dozen games before that and Villa will be hopeful his excellent finish here can spark another similar goal glut.
It has been keeping goals out at the other end that has been their main problem, especially on the road, having shipped five at Newcastle and three at both Liverpool and Warsaw, so a clean sheet – merited through Martinez’s brilliance and some fine last-ditch defending – will be well received by Emery too before Brighton’s visit to Villa Park on Saturday.
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