After three long weeks of international duty, Aston Villa Women returned to league action against defending champions Chelsea on Saturday 6th November. Following an undefeated start to the season after three games, Villa have dipped in form and were looking to get back on track – even against Emma Hayes’ UCL finalists.
The game was set to be highly defensive for Villa, and Carla Ward chose to play Alisha Lehmann as a lone striker, allowing for five at the back and four in the middle. Fans were delighted to see the return of club captain Marisa Ewers for her first start of the season, following a series of injury misfortunes.
Villa did not look afraid as the first half began. It was clear that a defined strategy had been worked on, and communication would be crucial in this match. Villa stayed tight at the back, with Asante, Sergeant, and Pacheco working especially hard to keep us level. As a result, Lehmann was predictably isolated up front, needing to be opportunistic with her counterattacks.
After twenty-two minutes, the visitors found a way through Villa’s defence. A visionary through ball from Ji allowed Olympic gold medalist Jessie Fleming to slot away her right-footed shot. A disappointing lapse in control, but Villa did not let their heads drop and sought a response.
Chances occurred at both ends, although Chelsea had the better of the two sides. Recently called-up Lioness Hannah Hampton was kept busy, keeping both Erin Cuthbert and Bethany England from scoring, whilst Ji fired a powerful shot into the crossbar.
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The sides went into half-time level, with some of the crowd discussing a potential change in formation to allow Lehmann more involvement. At 61 minutes, Marisa Ewers made way for Ruesha Littlejohn after a positive shift.
Chelsea’s attempts to double their lead became increasingly ambitious; attempts from outside the box began pouring in, including shots from Eriksson and Charles from around 35 yards out. Hampton remained level headed in goal and looked to move the game on quickly to catch out the opposition at the other end.
Moving into the game’s final stretch, Ward made an attacking change in Shania Hayles for Chloe Arthur. Just before this, Emma Hayes flexed Chelsea’s extraordinary squad depth by bringing on Ballon d’Or Féminin nominees Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby.
The famous duo did not have enough time to cause any damage; instead, Villa dominated the closing moments. As always, the game was never out of reach with only a goal between the two sides, but despite Villa’s best efforts, the equaliser did not quite come. Maz Pacheco fired a shot off target, and Meaghan Sargeant’s set-piece header was directed wide.
Villa were unfortunate to come away with nothing after nullifying Chelsea’s threat for the majority of the game. Fleming’s goal was the only difference between the two teams, putting the Blues back level with Arsenal at the top of the table. Carla Ward will undoubtedly find the positives in this performance, ahead of the second city derby at St Andrew’s next weekend, where she returns to face her former club, Birmingham City.
Small Heath | The Sty | Sunday 14th November 2021
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