After a second half blitz against Everton at the weekend to claim all three points in the league, Villa travelled to Stamford Bridge looking to keep that momentum going and continue their Carabao Cup run.
Villa’s youngsters and fringe players were electric in their second-round tie against League Two outfit Barrow, cruising to a 6-0 victory, but the contrast in quality of opponent couldn’t have been more extreme heading into this third-round tie.
This was Villa’s second meeting with Chelsea at the Bridge in 11 days, following on from their 3-0 defeat against Thomas Tuchel’s European Champions.
Despite the scoreline, the Villa boys were impressive in that fixture, showing real signs of intensity and class, and the fans will have been hoping for more of the same.
Both managers rang the changes from their weekend fixtures, with Chelsea making ten and Villa nine; only defenders Matty Cash and Axel Tuanzebe retaining their places in the first XI.
Under the watchful eye of royal Villan Prince William, flanked by Villa’s CEO Christian Purslow and sporting director Johan Lange, Chelsea were dominant in possession in the opening minutes, as you’d expect from the home side, but Villa didn’t allow them to dictate for long.
They were lively and kept pace with the boys in blue, limiting their chances in front of goal. The first chance of the game fell to Villa, as 19-year-old starlet Cameron Archer, a hat trick hero against Barrow in the previous round, was put through on goal by Morgan Sanson, but he put slightly too much power on his lofted effort, which sailed safely over the bar.
The game had an end-to-end feel inside the first half an hour, with counter attacks aplenty from both sides, but no real clear cut efforts being made. Saul headed a half-chance wide but there was little else happening for Chelsea.
Bertrand Traore found himself on the ground after a rough challenge by Malang Sarr, who was booked for his troubles, and it looked like the Burkina Faso international may have to be replaced, but after treatment he resumed.
Chelsea were looking to finish the half well, and Hakim Ziyech fired a strong shot at Jed Steer, but the big man was equal to it, saving comfortably, before Timo Werner had an ambitious effort blocked on the edge of the box a couple of minutes later.
Morgan Sanson’s stuttering start to his Villa career took another setback, as the classy looking Frenchman had to be replaced five minutes from half time due to what looked to be a hamstring injury. He hasn’t been able to catch a break since arriving at Villa in January, and could potentially face another several weeks on the sidelines.
Carney Chukwuemeka took his place, providing the youngster with a big opportunity to shine against top opposition.
The boys in claret and blue certainly weren’t going to be disheartened by the disruption, and it was in fact they who finished the half strongest.
Archer was put in again, this time by Traore, and his effort was well blocked by Kepa, before Anwar El Ghazi followed up from the rebound, but it was cleared off the line by Reece James.
Cash fired wide after a play from the resulting corner, before Traore had another effort comfortably saved at Kepa’s near post.
Half time arrived too soon as Villa looked to be in the ascendency, and it was all square at the break.
Mason Mount replaced N’Golo Kante for the hosts during the interval, with no further changes from Dean Smith.
Chelsea started the second half with a couple of lively attacks, the first dealt with easily by Kortney Hause, before Callum Hudson-Odoi fluffed an opportunity at the far post.
Steer produced a strong one-handed save from the troublesome Hudson-Odoi before the home side made a vocal appeal for a handball. Nothing doing.
Moments later, Chelsea took the lead when Reece James whipped in a delightful cross, and Werner headed home, giving Villa’s man between the sticks no chance.
Chelsea looked to turn the screw now, and almost doubled their lead moments later, with a shot scuffed wide from Werner, before Ziyech forced another solid save from Steer.
Once again, Villa weren’t going to be outdone, and they perked up on the hour mark, creating a couple of half chances; the ever lively Traore whipped in a cross towards El Ghazi, which was well cut out by Kepa, and then had a final effort saved before he was replaced by Jadon Philogene-Bidace.
The travelling support were sent into raptures when Cash fired in a delicious cross from the right, which was met perfectly by the head of Archer. The youngster’s effort rattled into the top corner and he wheeled away in delight. He was met by his teammates for a celebration in front of the jubilant away fans. What a moment!
It was all Villa now and if anyone was going to snatch the game at this point it was the visitors. El Ghazi and Philogene-Bidace both had decent chances, before Chelsea broke away again and Mount flashed an effort wide.
There was more great build up play from Cash, feeding Emiliano Buendia with a lovely pass, who sent his first time shot agonisingly over the bar.
Archer was played in again but slipped over at the crucial moment, which led to another Ziyech chance from the subsequent break.
Chelsea were looking worried, and Tuchel rang the changes, bringing on the ever-in-form £97m striker Romelu Lukaku and…Ross Barkley. The travelling fans weren’t particularly kind to the former Villa loanee, who failed to sparkle as expected.
The substitutions gave the home side some vigour, Lukaku especially, who was an immediate threat. Chelsea came at Villa, and Mount had a decent effort parried over, before Barkley fired wide.
Villa were under the kosh, and it looked to be game over when Lukaku was put through on goal, but up stepped Hause with a perfectly timed challenge to deny the big Belgian. World class!
Buedia was wasteful with a free kick in a decent position, and Villa held off a late Chelsea rally to take the game to penalties.
There wasn’t anywhere near the level of dread surrounding these spot kicks as there had been for Villa’s previous shootout, against West Brom in the Championship Playoff semi-final in 2019, but they’re always a nervy affair nonetheless.
Up first for the visitors, shooting towards the home supporters, was Anwar El Ghazi. He has never missed a penalty for Aston Villa, and he continued that trend with a well taken kick.
He was matched by Romelu Lukaku, who waited for Steer to make his move before placing it home sweetly.
Ashley Young took the second, and he rattled the crossbar with a thunderous strike, much to the joy of the fans behind the goal. Mason Mount converted for Chelsea and the advantage was theirs.
Up stepped Marvelous Nakamba for the third penalty, but he was denied by a decent save from Kepa. The penalty wasn’t atrocious, but it was at the perfect height for the keeper.
The Villa fans were hopeful of a Ross Barkley miss, but it wasn’t to be, and defeat seemed inevitable at this point.
Ezri Konsa was on duty for the fourth penalty, and he converted nicely. Ben Chilwell had to score to seal the tie, but there was a slight twist in the tale as he mimicked Young’s effort and struck the crossbar. Hope!
Emiliano Buendia took Villa’s final penalty, placing it to the right of Kepa, and now all eyes were on Villa’s playoff penalty hero Jed Steer.
Reece James had the duty of penalty number five for Chelsea, and he rifled it into the top left corner. The Villa keeper did guess correctly and stretched fully towards the ball, but it was just out of reach.
Heartbreak for the Villans, but ultimately plenty to be proud of, and confidence should be high heading into the daunting prospect of Man Utd at Old Trafford on Saturday. Regardless of the result there, the squad has real depth to it now, a genuine sense of togetherness again, and with a wealth of young talent breaking through into the first team, the future looks very exciting indeed.
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