José Mourinho's Chelsea feel the same, Villa are transformed, Hazard and Agbonlahor are flying but Ba's future is unclear
José Mourinho said on Tuesday that he wanted Chelsea to play with more intensity and "destroy" teams by four or five goals, admitting that his side had dropped their level against Hull City on Sunday in the second half. Yet against a well-organised Aston Villa they were again guilty of not killing the game off after taking an early lead. Mourinho's football may be wonderfully effective but in terms of entertainment it can at times fail to set the pulse racing. In the first half here Chelsea dominated possession but despite the attacking talents at their disposal could not create another clearcut scoring opportunity after the early own-goal. Juan Mata, so creative last season, does not appear to slot comfortably into the team and Mourinho was visibly frustrated on one occasion when the Spaniard did not track a man. That said, they still got a result.
After two Premier League matches last season Villa were bottom of the table and pointless. It would turn into an extremely difficult start to the campaign for Paul Lambert, who came under extraordinary pressure. The Scot, though, continued to persist with his policy of selecting a number of youngsters and it seems to have paid off handsomely. Ciaran Clark, Matthew Lowton, Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood all started at Stamford Bridge and impressed, while Lambert's foreign imports have proved shrewd purchases. Despite the defeat here Villa have shown promising signs in their opening two matches of the campaign and, significantly, the players' heads have not dropped in those games despite conceding early goals. The season ahead may be more enjoyable than the last.
Eden Hazard was singled out by Mourinho before this match as having the potential to be a key player this season. "I want more responsibility and more ambition," said the Portuguese, and Hazard demonstrated it here. Beginning the match out on the flank but interchanging with Oscar as the central attacking player in midfield, Hazard used his finesse to break into the penalty area and force the opening goal, his effort resulting in the ball rebounding off Brad Guzan's palms and ricocheting in off the body of Antonio Luna. Hazard scored 13 times for Chelsea last season during his first campaign for the club and of all the attacking midfielders at Mourinho's disposal he is physically the strongest, potentially earning him preferential treatment over Oscar and Juan Mata.
After Aston Villa's impressive opening-day victory against Arsenal, Paul Lambert described Agbonlahor as "unplayable – as good a performance as I've seen from an individual in many a year". It may not have been such a blistering display from Agbonlahor on Wednesday night but he was lively throughout and produced a wonderful turn of pace to set up the Villa equaliser, leaving Branislav Ivanovic for dead and sliding a precise ball across for Christian Benteke to finish past Petr Cech. Agbonlahor ended last season in fine form but in May admitted that he did not expect to hear from the England manager, Roy Hodgson, having earned his previous three caps under Fabio Capello. "It's different to when Fabio Capello was here because he picked players on form," lamented the forward. More performances like this, however, and that could change.
A cynic would argue that Ba was selected to start the game on Wednesday night as a means of putting him in the shop window. The Senegalese forward is rumoured to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge this summer, with Roma and West Ham two clubs linked with his signature. He made little impact here, working hard but kept quiet by the Villa centre-halves with relative ease. He showed one bright moment on the stroke of half-time, controlling the ball well out of the air before scuffing a low shot at Guzan. Yet there was little else to offer encouragement and with Chelsea looking to add another striker before the window closes, Ba would surely fall even further behind in the pecking order behind Fernando Torres and Romelu Lukaku.