To say 3 points were vital today would be a bit of an understatement. Trailing Tottenham by 5 points and Arsenal by 8 in the race for Champions League places is going to leave us very little room for error going forward, and winning by a few goals here and there would go a long way in the goal differential department as well. With that in mind, facing off against a Villa side ravaged by injuries today seemed like a good chance to at least do no harm in oour quest for the top 4.
Di Matteo picked a very attacking side for the contest today, with three strikers, Juan Mata, and Frank Lampard all on the pitch together. Ramires began on the bench, earning himself a much needed rest in this one. We'd look likely to score early, with two pretty dangerous looking chances in the opening 5 minutes of the game. The first would go to waste as a beautiful through ball by Frank Lampard should have put Torres through alone, but the Spaniard was slow to react and allowed the defense to cut out the run.
The second missed chance would come as Torres ran onto a perfectly played ball by David Luiz. The Spaniard had a more or less free run on goal, but his shot was saved by Shay Given and the game remained scoreless. It was a little frustrating to not have an early lead, but the warning signs for Villa fans were certainly there.
We wouldn't have to wait long for the goal, as just ten minutes into the contest Daniel Sturridge would put us ahead. Ashley Cole played a cross that was deflected to Juan Mata, and Mata forced Given to the near post. He then slid a neat little pass into the path of Fernando Torres who had his shot blocked by Stephen Warnock. The ball would drop to the feet of Danny Sturridge though, who would slot the ball neatly into the back of the net. Just like that it was 1-0 good guys.
Chelsea would go on to dominate the run of play throughout the remainder of the half, but wouldn't add a second. Juan Mata found the woodwork unkind yet again, he's been doing that a lot as of late. John Obi Mikel also fired a missile that was deflected kindly into the arms of the easily beaten keeper. He'll score someday, he really will. Villa still nearly drew level minutes before the half as Gabriel Agbonlahor had an excellent effort saved by the feet of the diving Petr Cech. Clearly Cech doesn't want to be offloaded this summer...
The scariest moment of the half would come just seconds before the whistle, as David Luiz limped off and had to be replaced in stoppage time. It's never a good sign when a club has to make a substitution at that stage of the contest, and based on that I'd guess we'll be seeing a Cahill/Terry partnership for the next few matches. Hopefully it's nothing serious, but we'll know more soon as he'll undergo a scan early in the week.
The second half would get under way in excellent fashion for the Blues. Just minutes into the half Branislav Ivanovic would find the back of the net with his skull off of a corner. It was 2-0 good guys, and thing were looking rosey all of a sudden.
The Blues would put it into cruise control at this point, not really doing a whole lot of anything for a bit. Fernando Torres would see another effort blocked away by a last ditch effort, but other than that we didn't really do much to create chances. Ramires would come on for Salomon Kalou, and Florent Malouda would eventually replace Juan Mata. Villa would pick up their play a bit, and were gradually putting more pressure on the Chelsea defense.
Our set piece defense would be called into question yet again. After several dangerous looking corners and throws, we'd botch our assignments and leave James Collins a pretty easy header off a throw that would cut the lead in half. While it was well taken by Villa, we really did a poor job defending that particular play.
Another individual error would cost us again just minutes later, as Ashley Cole whiffed on an attempt to clear the ball out of play. Marc Albrighton crossed the ball dangerously through the box, although the Chelsea defense were in a good shape to deal with it. It rolled to Cole, he swung and missed, and Eric Lichaj buried the ball into the net to level it. This was all too typical of Chelsea this season, and it looked as if our casual play would again cost us dearly after an individual cock up.
We'd jump back on top almost immediately, as Fernando Torres deflected a corner onto the golden dome of Branislav Ivanovic. The speed at which Chelsea retook the lead was nice to see, it would have been even better had we never had to retake it in the first place. Luckily we appeared to be awake again though, so hopefully we'd see this one out.
Torres would put it away shortly into stoppage time for us. The ever selfish Danny Sturridge collected the ball around midfield and began to push towards the goal. With support on both the left and right We were all certainly hoping he'd pass this one off, and he didn't disappoint. He did an excellent job of forcing the defense to commit itself, in doing so he opened an easy passing lane to Torres. Torres made the most of it, slotting it in the far post an effectively ending the game. 4-2 good guys, 3 points in the book.
With Arsenal losing today we're now sitting in a fairly good position. Arsenal have to face off with Manchester City next weekend, so dealing with Wigan could realistically leave us just two points back with a head to head still to play. All of a sudden the top four looks achievable, although Josh McEachran and Swansea beating or drawing Tottenham tomorrow would be awfully helpful as well. Benfica is up next, let's keep this train a rolling...