The Premier League returned this weekend and the first game was a good matchup between Aston Villa and Chelsea. Chelsea historically has not had a good record at Villa Park and it continued in this game. Aston Villa was able to consistently create chances but were caught in the 15th minute by a great shot by Didier Drogba who shot from 35 yards out. Brad Friedel should have done better but the ball bounced right in front of him and bounced over him into the goal. Aston Villa responded in the 32nd minute on a corner kick. Ashley Young’s cross was deflected by Frank Lampard and finished by Richard Dunne.
The game continued to be back and forth with both teams creating chances but in the 52nd minute James Collins scored off of another Young corner kick where he was completely unmarked in the box. Chelsea responded but Friedel came up big where he was able to stop shots from Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka. Outside of these chances, Aston Villa were not being overly pressured and were able to hold on fairly easily for the victory. Here are some other observations.
- Gabriel Agbonlahor has a great future. I really loved Agbonlahor when I saw him way back in 2006. His pace was electric and yesterday it was clear that he has improved his crossing ability when he drags out wide. But more importantly, he has greatly improved his upper body strength and is able to hold off defenders. This makes him a real menace. He can harass central defenders with his pace and can outmuscle fullbacks. Still only 23, he needs to improve his finishing but I think he could be the future striker partner for England with Rooney.
- Aston Villa have rebuilt their defense. Heading into the season, Aston Villa fans were worried about how they could replace Martin Laursen. Initially, they used Curties Davies and Carlos Cuellar but even sold Zat Knight who was their third center back. Davies got injured (and seems injury prone in general) so they added Richard Dunne and James Collins. Dunne has the experience while Davies and Collins looks to be the likely pairing to the future. They are still waiting for Luke Young to return at right back who is more dynamic going forward than Cuellar. They also added Stephen Warnock at left back who is an upgrade on Nicky Shorey. With all these changes, they have built a completely new yet experienced back line that should help to offset the loss of Gareth Barry who helped protect the back line from midfield.
- Chelsea still lack width. Chelsea’s chances were often the product of counter attacks or quick passing but they were always focused down the center. Their midfield is composed of three midfielders who prefer to play centrally (Essien, Lampard, Deco) and one who does not hug the sideline and drifts inside a lot (Malouda). This requires full backs to push up which exposes the defense. In addition to that their midfield seems to be congest the midfield in attack requiring quick intricate passing, which can work but can be also be extremely difficult. They do not seem to have players who will drive to the end line consistently and get crosses into the box. I feel that Joe Cole and Yuri Zhirkov will be two players that will be key to Chelsea breaking down more organized and disciplined teams.