The spectre of Thomas Tuchel swirled around Stamford Bridge as Chelsea drew 1-1 with Aston Villa on a night when the home side were unable to fashion a victory to lift the pressure on Frank Lampard.
Olivier Giroud opened the scoring in the 34th minute with a trademark header after Dean Smith’s side had dominated the proceedings. Although the hosts had most of the territorial advantage afterwards, Anwar El Ghazi levelled the scores five minutes into the second period.
Chelsea remain in sixth place in the Premier League, one position below Villa. Expectations are much higher in west London and Tuchel, who parted company with Paris Saint-Germain before Christmas, has been linked with the job at the Bridge.
Chelsea spent more than £220m in the transfer market in the summer and Roman Abramovich expects more from the team than this incoherent performance against Villa.
Although the home side had the first sight of goal – Antonio Rudiger flicked a corner into Emiliano Martínez’s hands – the visitors looked the more dangerous side for the first half hour. Jack Grealish made space for himself in the area and fired off a shot that Edouard Mendy had to palm away for a corner.
Anwar El Ghazi managed to get on the end of the resulting set-piece but his scuffed effort was blocked by Giroud and scooped up by the goalkeeper.
Grealish makes Villa tick but the 25-year-old almost set up a goal for Chelsea. He strayed back into his own half and sent an aimless pass into the centre of the pitch. Christian Pulisic, the best of Chelsea’s forwards, picked up the ball and bore down on goal but the American wasted the opportunity and shot into the side netting.
Within moments Grealish was causing mischief at the other end. He drove into the box, passing Andreas Christensen with ease, and rolled the ball across the area but there were no team-mates in the vicinity. The Villa talisman then curled in a free kick to Kortney Hause but the defender mistimed his header badly.
There was another alarm for the home side when El Ghazi clipped in a cross. Mendy groped at the ball and pushed it into the path of Matt Cash but the full back could only shoot over.
There was little pattern to Chelsea’s play apart from an eagerness to get Ben Chilwell into the game and just after the half-hour mark the full back began to see more of the ball. He found space and aimed a cross towards Giroud but El Ghazi snuffed out the danger. It was the start of a spell of pressure from the home side. Giroud contested a challenge in the area and the ball fell to Pulisic inside the six yard box. The forward had his back to goal and attempted an overhead kick that went high over the bar.
Villa were reeling. The direction of the play had turned and a Chelsea goal began to seem inevitable. Pulisic, lurking 20 yards out, cleverly fed Chilwell, who picked out Giroud at the near post. The Frenchman stooped low and guided a header into the net. The 34-year-old loves playing Villa. He has scored in his last seven appearances against the Midlands club, netting nine times.
Lampard’s side could have been further in front at the break. Mason Mount shot wide from a narrow angle as Chelsea poured forward.
Smith’s team talk must have been effective because Villa came out with renewed energy. They were quickly level. Matty Cash picked up possession on the right and had the time and space to find El Ghazi at the back post. The Dutchman was completely unmarked and had the simple task of putting the ball into the net.
Chelsea complained bitterly. In the build up Greallish and Andreas Christensen contested a tackle that left the Dane clutching his leg in agony. Christensen appeared to have dangled his heel to foul Grealish but the defender lay prone for a long time and his team-mates expected the referee to stop the game.
The home side responded by laying siege to the Villa goal but they lacked a cutting edge. Pulisic dribbled into the area and laid a pass back but N’Golo Kante’s shot was tame. Cesar Azpilicueta had the ball in the net after Pulisic’s header was cleared off the line by Ollie Watkins but the American was offside.
At the other end, John McGinn rapped a shot against the bar from 25 yards. Although Chelsea had the majority of the ball, the game was in the balance.
In an attempt to swing things his side’s way, Lampard sent on Timo Werner and Kai Havertz for Giroud and Jorginho with 18 minutes to go. Chelsea were committed to attack but they were playing a dangerous game. Villa looked to break and the home side were lucky that Grealish gave away possession after driving into the opposition area.
Pulisic forced Martínez to tip over the bar from long range but there was a dearth of clear-cut chances for Lampard’s team. Werner had perhaps the best opportunity but the German shot high from inside the area.
Villa remained dangerous and Jacob Ramsey, on for El Ghazi, went close with his first touch, shooting just wide of the post from outside the box.
Chilwell fired a volley wide in stoppage time but the draw did little to lift the mood at Stamford Bridge. Lampard needs to improve things quickly. The demands for Tuchel will grow louder.
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