Chelsea rediscover themselves with FA Cup win at Aston Villa


Conor Gallagher and Enzo Fernandez celebrate the opening goal against Aston Villa
Chelsea bounced back from two dispiriting league defeats to reach the FA Cup fifth round – Getty Images/Darren Walsh

It looks like Thiago Silva’s wife, Belle, was right when she said it was time for change at Chelsea. And so Mauricio Pochettino dropped her 39-year-old husband and his team produced their most convincing performance of the season – the bullish manager even stated it was – in beating Aston Villa away to reach the last-16 of the FA Cup.

In Silva’s absence Axel Disasi partnered Benoit Badiashile in central defence and the pair looked far more secure and commanding and, tellingly, Villa did not score while they were together.

But it was further forward where Pochettino’s big calls were even more interesting and impactful. Nicolas Jackson made his first start since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations and was simply devastating. Not as a centre-forward, although the Senegalese later moved there, but as a flying left-winger as he scored one and helped create another goal.

Where does that leave Raheem Sterling – who came on only when the tie was won – or Mykhailo Mudryk who stayed on the bench? On the other flank Noni Madueke, who Sterling eventually replaced, was also hugely effective and suddenly the concerns over the youth and inexperience of this Chelsea side were banished.

Also banished, if they play like this, will be any concerns over Pochettino’s future. Chelsea are already in the Carabao Cup final later this month, and if they maintain this form against Liverpool it will be less of a formality than expected, and face Leeds United in the fifth round of this competition.

Thiago SIlva

Thiago Silva made a late appearance from the bench but Chelsea looked more solid without the 39-year-old in the starting XI – Getty Images/ Darren Walsh

It was also the moment, for Chelsea, when Enzo Fernandez arrived. Undeniably, so far, he has struggled to remotely justify that £106 million transfer fee paid in January last year but the midfielder was outstanding and capped it with the most glorious of free-kicks to beat his Argentinian international team-mate, and fellow World Cup winner, Emiliano Martinez.

Silva’s wife may have apologised for her apparent criticism of Pochettino on social media but on this evidence it will be hard for her husband to regain his starting place in the side, whether he was punished or not, and not least because he has also struggled for form.

Like Sterling, Silva was a late substitute which looked like an act of appeasement from Pochettino who also switched Chelsea to a back-three in another change. Albeit one Mrs Silva will have approved of. But that experiment was short-lived due to an injury to Badiashile.

Afterwards, understandably, Pochettino felt vindicated. He will surely hope it is a “line in the sand” moment after the damaging 4-2 home defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday and conceding another four goals in losing away to Liverpool which had sharpened the focus on him, his future and whether it lies at Chelsea.

“We need to stop thinking we are Chelsea from the last 20 years, because we are not that Chelsea,” Pochettino said, irritated at the perception of what Chelsea should be achieving. “We need to move on and provide this team, the youngest in the Premier League, to find the balance and be consistent.

“We need to move on. I don’t care if people are happy or not happy with my speech. I don’t care what people say or make noise to attack us.

“We have the experience that this type of project needs time and trust. We cannot be a team capable of fighting for trophies in a few months. People say because Chelsea invest but, no, no we need time.”

It was undeniably the type of performance that buys time while, despite Pochettino’s protestations, they are actually still in the running for two trophies, of course.

Meanwhile that dip in form is collectively afflicting Villa with just one win now in five matches and a sense that fatigue, and a stretched squad, is beginning to catch up on them and their manager Unai Emery cut a frustrated figure even if he argued that the difference was Chelsea’s clinical finishing.

Maybe. But the reality was Villa were dominated all over the pitch and not least in midfield where Douglas Luiz and Boubacar Kamara struggled against Fernandez and Moises Caicedo while their defence could not cope with the clever movement and pace of Chelsea’s attackers, behind the “false nine” Cole Palmer.

Palmer stayed in the middle for much of the game with Jackson out on the left. It worked perfectly.

Inside the opening 10 minutes there was another chorus of “Roman Abramovich” from many of the 7,000 Chelsea fans and just as it died down their team scored. That was an emphatic response with Jackson charging through. His cross was cut out, Madueke tidied it up and Conor Gallagher side-footed home his first goal of the season.

Conor Gallagher scores with a right-foot shot

Conor Gallagher breaks his scoring duck for the season – Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

That shock lead was doubled as Madueke ran forward before pushing the ball wide to the impressive Malo Gusto who had time to cross with Jackson stealing in to expertly steer in his header.

One goal down seemed tough on Villa, given the positive start, and two felt unjust. But Chelsea soon made it emphatically their tie as they took over.

Nicolas Jackson heads the second goal

Nicolas Jackson steers in the second – AP Photo/Rui Vieira

Confidence coursed through them, it was like a switch had been flicked, a load lightened, and their threat grew and grew.

There was even a swagger which peaked with Fernandez’s free-kick, conceded after he had been fouled as he shaped to shoot. Martinez did well to even get close to the ball but the whip on it from Fernandez made it impossible to stop.

It was game over. The home crowd had thinned long before the final whistle and before, in injury-time, substitute Moussa Diaby pulled a goal back with his first-time shot kissing a post on its way in. It was no consolation. Instead it was a repeat of the score in Villa’s last home game – the 3-1 loss in the Premier League to Newcastle United.


10:19 PM GMT

Mauricio Pochettino speaks to ITV

It was one of the best if not the best performamce of the season. We are a young team. [The goal] is always to be solid and consistent but it’s difficult in a young team. We need the resilence of this guy [points to Keane] perhaps. When you have 15, 16 new players it’s not easy. It’s always about finding the balance. It is difficult to unite the characteristics of all the players, the idea of being a team, but today the team was in the middle, always ready to fight and compete. I belive in them and I told them to show that they believe, that we need to show we are a team. I am so optimistic, I was more relaxed than ever because I knew the team was going to perform. I know I am capable. You know when the players are with you. The belief is there 200 percent.


10:03 PM GMT

Ben Chilwell speaks to ITV – on delievrance

It was exactly the reaction we wanted and needed. We delivered it today. There was pressure on the boys, we needed that. We thrived on it. We delivered on the pitch. The atmosphere in the dressing room before the game was as good as I’ve seen it.

As a club – the players, the manager, the fans, everyone at the training ground needed that. Everyone associated with the club, not just the manager, needed that performance and we delivered today.


09:58 PM GMT

Chelsea play Leeds in the fifth round

Tie to be played on Feb 28 at Stamford Bridge. I can feel a 1970 Cup final replay piece coming on …


09:57 PM GMT

Full time: Villa 1 Chelsea 3

Too early to say this is a turning point for Chelsea but they played well and the £200 million+ midfield pivot gelled impressively. Villa were rubbish by their own high standards but amde to look so by Chelsea. That central defensive partnership of Badiashile and Disasi is one Pochettino can hang his hat on.


09:54 PM GMT

90+4 min: Villa 1 Chelsea 3

Enzo Fernandez is named man of the match just after a good Martinez save stopped Caicedo’s chip.


09:52 PM GMT

90+2 min: Villa 1 Chelsea 3

The second of four minutes of stoppage time ends with Iroegbunam’s header being saved at the second attempt by Petrovic at his feet, just stopping Zaniolo sneaking in.


09:51 PM GMT

GOAL!

Villa 1 Chelsea 3 (Diaby)  From the corner, which is played to the left fo the D, Cash’s shot is blocked. Ramsey pounces on the rebound and drives down the left to cut it back to the middle of the 18-yard line where Diaby meets it with a left-foot shot which he sweeps in off the right post.


09:49 PM GMT

89 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Moreno earns a corner off Fernandez which they take short and win another one.


09:47 PM GMT

87 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Badiashile seems to have hurt his groin, kneading it with his index finger and thumb.

He has to go off:

Gilchrist ⇢ Badiashile

Nkunku ⇢ Jackson.

And for Villa

Iroegbunam ⇢ Bailey

Zaniolo ⇢ Kamara.


09:43 PM GMT

85 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Three banks in a 5-3-2 from Chelsea hold Villa’s probing at bay, primed to strike on the counter.


09:42 PM GMT

83 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Caicedo went off to be replaced by Nkunku but the board wasn’t working so he comes back on a few seconds after the restart.

This is the best Chelsea performance I’ve seen this season and the worst since day one from Villa. The two might be related.

Chelsea fans sing: ‘We all hate Leeds and Leeds and Leeds.’ Well, quite.


09:40 PM GMT

81 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Chelsea have found the right blend in defence tonight but here comes Thiago Silva nonetheless and they will switch to three at the back:

Thiago Silva ⇢ Palmer


09:37 PM GMT

79 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Jackson hits the deck clutching his back and Fernandez knocks the ball out for a throw and to allow the physio on.


09:36 PM GMT

77 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Villa are stringing some probing passes together around the box over the past 10 minutes but Chelsea are getting loads of blue shirts back and the final pass in very tight areas hasn’t been good enough, Bailey the latest culprit.


09:35 PM GMT

75 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Moreno sticks a back-post header on to the roof of the net after Cash stood up a diagonal cross. Petrovic is booked for timewasting at the restart after a awarning three minutes previously.

Sterling ⇢ Madueke.


09:33 PM GMT

73 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Good tackle by Disasi and a good header from Badiashile squeeze out Ramsey’s cross but the ball does fall to Diaby for a roundhouse sidewinder volley that he shanks wide. The ball didn’t bounce as quickly as he wanted.


09:32 PM GMT

71 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Double Villa change:

Ramsey ⇢ McGinn

Diaby ⇢ Tielemans.


09:31 PM GMT

69 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Tielemans tries to free Bailey but can’t squeeze the ball through an alert Chelsea defence. Thirty seconds later Cash pulls back a cross to the right of the penalty spot and McGinn crashes his shot into Badiashile’s bold block. Badiashile goes all Ruben Dias in his celebrtation of what referees in the worst of all initialiisms call a DOGSO, denial of goalscoring opportunity. This one legal, mind.


09:28 PM GMT

66 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Villa are walking about now, devoid of belief. A replay shows that Tielemans barely if at all touched Fernandez to concede the free-kick from which he scored. ‘Who cares?’ asks Lee Dixon. I can think of a few.

Fernandez scores

Fernandez bends in the third – REUTERS/Carl Recine


09:25 PM GMT

64 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Disasi has relished the physical battle and race with Watkins, snapping into a challenge to force him wide in the box after a Chelsea mistake. Watkins still manages to instigate a move to shift the ball across the 18 yard line to McGinn who fires wide under acute pressure.


09:21 PM GMT

61 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Chelsea have been very good. As if some impostors have been playing in their stead all season and finally the real talent have turned up. Whether it’s to rally round the manager or the badge, I don’t know. Villa, by contrast, have been abject and still don’t seem able to adjust, letting Madueke cut in off the right again to whistle a left foot shot past the far post. Why not try showing him down the line?


09:18 PM GMT

58 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Villa free-kick on the right flashed into the box by McGinn with his left, swinging it towards goal where Diego Carlos is first to it but bludgeons his header over.


09:16 PM GMT

56 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 3

Fernandez takes off his shirt to brandish the name on the back to the fans and is predictably booked. The match director sends the steadicam man into the Chelsea celebration where there is some jeffing but significantly more effing. And then the commentators apologise for the ‘industrial language’. Play with matches …

Enzo Fernandez made it 3-0 with a spectacular free-kick and his celebration appeared to be a response to a recent report that, despite his eight-and-a-half year contract, he wanted to leave Chelsea. The Argentina midfielder ripped off his shirt and pointed to it in front of the away fans.


09:12 PM GMT

GOAL!

Villa 0 Chelsea 3 (Fernandez)  Fabulous free-kick, as good as you’ll see, arced over the wall and bent into the top left corner. MArtinez did his best but could only reach it by his finger nails. Great goal.


09:12 PM GMT

53 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Tielemans blindsides Fernandez 28 yards out when he was about to lay it off. Free-kick and Fernandez lines it up …


09:11 PM GMT

52 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Villa still don’t seem to have sussed that Madueke loves cutting inside from the right wing on to his left and let him race 50 yards, tacking diagonally to feed Fernandez who fails by inches to play Palmer back in down the right of the box. PAlmer does get there but runs out of room to get a shot off and has to recycle the ball backwards.


09:08 PM GMT

50 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Cash, Tielemans and Bailey try to fashion a triangle up their right but Cash can’t trap a fizzed return pass from Tielemans and squirts the ball out for a Chelsea throw-in.


09:07 PM GMT

48 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Diego Carlos sticks his foot in out of frustration to concede a free-kick just inside his own half to end some slick Chelsea possession.


09:06 PM GMT

46 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

The pundits were calling for Villa changes but Emery sends his starting XI out again and told them to dig themselves out of this hole. Still seem flat.


08:52 PM GMT

Half-time: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

So many came to bury Chelsea, including some of their own fans, and end the half having to praise them. They have played very well, running Villa ragged especially down the Chelsea right, Palmer and Madueke often double-teaming Moreno. Villa have looked flat and it’s alarming that they haven’t come up with a solution among themselves for Moreno being targeted and swamped.

Villa require a rocket, tweaks and/or major half-time surgery. Chelsea have been terrific.


08:48 PM GMT

45+3 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Nothing comes from the corner and the ref blows for half-time. Chelsea walk off delighted.


08:48 PM GMT

45+2 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Three minutes’ stoppage time are signalled and the first of them end with a throw slipping out of Chilwell’s hands and sparking a Villa counter. They shift the ball up their right early to Bailey who lays it off to McGinn who side-foots a shot that Petrovic pushes over.


08:46 PM GMT

45 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Alex Moreno races down the left and his low cross is deflected back on to him by a slide tackle from where it bobbles out for a goal-kick.


08:45 PM GMT

43 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Perhaps playing a derelict Sheffield United side is no preparation for playing one who are fighting for their manager’s life and have the skill to cash those cheques. Douglas Luiz has to trip Caicedo to stop him breaking free down the right. Emery needs to sort his press out. Chelsea have more time than any other side have given them for weeks.


08:42 PM GMT

41 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Enzo Fernandez is having a stormer in midfield and giving Douglas Luiz his biggest runaround of the season.

Jackson scores

Jackson rams in Chelsea’s second – REUTERS/Carl Recine


08:39 PM GMT

39 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Watkins flicks on the corner into the middle of the box but there’s no finisher there and Chelsea scramble it clear, Gusto racing away untul he entices Diego Carlos to foul him.


08:38 PM GMT

37 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Fernandez and Tielemans tussle when the former tries to shepherd a ball out for a goalkick. He claims Tielemans pushed him when he hit the deck and knocked it behind for a corner but the referee isn’t convinced.


08:37 PM GMT

35 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Madueke is on his bike again, sprinting down the right, keeping the ball in play and pelting past Moreno and bowling over Douglas Luiz to knock it inside to Palmer. He bends a shot, aiming for the bottom left but starts it out too close to centre and Martinez makes a solid save, low to his right, batting it away.


08:34 PM GMT

33 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Villa’s fans are making their exasperation known. The fabled 4-2-2-2 is looking like 4-4-2 most of the time but with Bailey and McGinn doing very little to help their beseiged full-backs.


08:32 PM GMT

31 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Chelsea take the corner short and work an opportunity for Chilwell to shoot wide from 25 yards.


08:31 PM GMT

29 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Chelsea corner when Madueke and Palmer team up down the right. As Lee Dixon says, there’s something wrong with the timing of the triggering of the Villa press.

Villa see off the corner but Gallagher slides in to tackle Bailey and send Madueke down the inside-right to win another corner.

Conor Gallager scores

Conor Gallagher bags his first goal of the season – Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images


08:27 PM GMT

27 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Kamara loses the ball in the centre-circle with a misplaced pass and the crowd groans. Chelsea are doing a Newcastle on them.


08:26 PM GMT

25 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 2

Villa have been woeful. McGinn has just given the ball away casaually and invited another Chelsea raid down the right. Moreno keeps refusing to show him outside and keeps inviting him to cut in on his left. You can also see why Emery prefers Konsa at right-back to Cash.


08:21 PM GMT

GOAL!

Villa 0 Chelsea 2 (Jackson)  Gusto whips a cross towards the penalty spot and Jackson doesn’t have to jump to head it in. Again Villa’s midfield loses the ball, fails to press to get it back and Madueke has Moreno on toast again, forcing him to backpedal rather than engage and leaving him isolated when Gusto races round on the overlap to tee up Jackson.


08:21 PM GMT

19 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 1

Villa have looked very vulnerable out wide at the back and Madueke is the latest to burn past a Villa full-back. Racing on to a Fernandez pass curled round the corner, Madueke leaves Alex Moreno in his wake, cuts in on his left and tries to arc a shot in at the far post. Right idea but not enough bend and it ends up halfway between the corner flag and the left post.


08:18 PM GMT

17min: Villa 0 Chelsea 1

Madueke hooks volley with his left into the ground after Chilwell delayed the cross.


08:17 PM GMT

15 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 1

‘How s— must you be? We’re winning away,’ sing the Chelsea fans. Chelsea waste a good opportunity to cross but Palmer over elaborates and is pushed backwards after trying to beat Moreno a second time.


08:16 PM GMT

13 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 1

Two saves in less than a minute by Petrovic, the first a vicious but straight daisycutter from Bailey, the second tipped over the bar from a thunderous Watkins angled half-volley.

From the corner Villa are caught upfield and Chelsea break like lightning but while Gusto has the pace he doesn’t have the precsion with his cross and bends it too close to Martinez.


08:11 PM GMT

GOAL!

Villa 0 Chelsea 1 (Gallagher)  Kamara gives the ball away in the old right-half position, passing it to Chilwell who knocks it infield to Gallagher. The midfielder hits a first-time diagonal to Jackson who strides down the left and picks out Gallagher for a crisp, right, side-foot finish from 12 yards.


08:10 PM GMT

10 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 0

Chelsea fans in fine voice so far.


08:09 PM GMT

8 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 0

Bailey comes back to stop Fernandez getting a cross in from the left, turning it behind for a corner. Chilwell takes deep and only Jackson is there to leap on to the clearance and heads it back across goal for Fernandez. Instead of burying ro beat his World Cup-winning team-mate, he gives him catching practice.


08:07 PM GMT

5 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 0

Madueke makes progress down the right and opens a path for a pass with a shimmy before striking it with his left into the box down the inside-forward channel. Palmer tries to whip it with his right on goal but gets his angles wrong.


08:06 PM GMT

3 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 0

Cash is twice involved in a move that tears Chelsea apart, first shifting the ball inside to Bailey who dribbles diagonally and is allowed to keep going by a Fernandez missed tackle. Douglas Luiz pounces on the ball when Bailey is tackled and sprays a pass back out to Cash on the overlap and he stands up a cross to the back post that bypasses the Chelsea defenders but Alex Moreno, instead of nodding it towards goal from six yards, tried to head it to Watkins. He needed to take responsibility there and not shirk it. Chelsea scramble it away.


08:02 PM GMT

1 min: Villa 0 Chelsea 0

Off we go and Chelsea are pressing like angry hornets as Villa play it back to the keeper and launch an attack up the left that creates a headed half-chance for Watkins and then Tielemans feeding on the scraps 10 yards out but his stabbed effort is blocked.


07:59 PM GMT

Divided loyalties?

Not at all for Chelsea fans who are singing ‘Oh, Thiago Silva’ as the teams emerge.


07:57 PM GMT

The teams are in the tunnel

Villa in claret and blue, Chelsea in royal blue and their dinky white socks.


07:55 PM GMT

Villa Park is putting on a lights show

After a dose of Jeff Beck.

A light show? Conduct unbecoming of a grand old club?


07:52 PM GMT

Villa pay tribute to a lifelong fan on the big screen

Ian Lavender, aka Frank Pike and Frank Weisel:

Ian Lavender RIP on big screen

Villa rememberone of their own – ITV Sport


07:47 PM GMT

Unai Emery speaks to ITV Sport

We are very excited and motivated to play in front of our support at Villa Park. We will adapt some of the things we did in Sheffield [where they won 5-0] as we adapt for different teams and competitions. Chelsea have lost the last two matches but they were progressing well and they have a very good coach, have very good players and we are ready to play a very tough match.


07:38 PM GMT

Pochettino: ‘Why the [Thiago] question?’


07:29 PM GMT

Pochettino ‘rests’ Thiago

So Thiago Silva has been dropped by Mauricio Pochettino for Chelsea’s FA Cup tie away to Aston Villa. It comes after his wife, Belle, apologised on social media after appearing to call for Pochettino to be sacked after the 4-2 home defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers. It also comes after talks between Pochettino and Silva after the defender’s wife had written: “It’s time for change. If you wait any longer it will be too late.”

Clearly Pochettino has put his foot down. It may be argued he is resting the 39-year-old defender but it looks pretty clear what has happened. There had been talk of Chelsea switching to a back-three to help Silva but, instead, he has been left out.


07:15 PM GMT

Your teams in black and white

Aston Villa  Martinez; Cash, Diego Carlos, Lenglet, Alex Moreno; Kamara, Douglas Luiz; McGinn, Tielemans: Bailey, Watkins. 
Substitutes Olsen, Torres, Chambers, Diaby, Zaniolo, Ramsey, Iroegbunam, Wright, Kellyman. 

Chelsea  Petrovic; Gusto, Disasi, Badiashile, Chilwell; Caicedo, Fernandez; Palmer, Gallagher, Madueke; Jackson.
Substitutes Bettinelli, Thiago Silva, Sterling, Mudryk, Chukwuemeka, Nkunku, Gilchrist, Bergstrom, Samuels-Smith.

Referee  Thomas Bramall (Sheffield).


07:10 PM GMT

A hot, rather than a watm reception


07:02 PM GMT

Mrs Thiago Silva won’t be pleased

Three changes: Badiashile, Jackson and Madueke replace Thiago Silva, Sterling and Nkunku.


07:01 PM GMT

One change for Villa: Cash for Konsa


06:53 PM GMT

Confirmed injury absentees, long and short-term

For Aston Villa: Ezri Konsa, Jhon Duran, Tyrone Mings, Emi Buendia and Lucas Digne.

For Chelsea: Reece James, Marc Cucurella, Wesley Fofana, Robert Sanchez, Romeo Lavia, Lesley Ugochukwu, Levi Colwill and Trevoh Chalobah.


06:46 PM GMT

Having a wager?

Having a bet on today’s match? First take a look at these free bets and betting offers.


06:44 PM GMT

Preview: Vultures perched

In the Abramovic days Chelsea could win a fourth-round FA Cup tie, as Messrs Scolari and Lampard would tell you, and the manager would be sacked shortly after, watching his successor carry on the run with his players and take the team to Wembley. They are not so ruthless now but there is a reason the vultures are perched on the roof of the Trinity Road Stand at Villa Park tonight and that’s to be there should Chelsea lose heavily or the players betray any lack of faith in their manager, rather than just a wife’s disdain, or the travelling supporters, usually at the vanguard of a revolution, turn on Mauricio Pochettino again.

He’s hardly the cause of Chelsea’s woes, though, but may pay the price of a reckless new ownership’s berserk buying spree during which, in classic Harry Enfield ‘I’ve seen you coming’ style they have paid over the odds on fees and wages and lumbered the club with seven to eight-year commitments, too. Pochettino might be struggling to make some sense of his squad but almost anyone would with an absurd number of first-team squad players, a ridiculous number of which are tied to such long contracts.

Add to that an injury epidemic and his hands are not just tied, his feet are, too. Some fans might want Jose Mourinho but there’s not a chance in hell that the board would appoint him. His recent record isn’t good enough and he will not be shy of apportioning blame when it goes pear-shaped. The owners, shielded by their two most recent appointments, Graham Potter and Pochettino, would not risk that. No emperor wants to be told his new ‘clothes’ leave him naked and exposed.

That’s not to say Pochettino has not made errors in selection and tactics. They are a team that’s comfortably less than the sum of their parts which is not something you could say about Aston Villa under Unai Emery. The defeat by Newcastle apart, Villa are buoyant and play with a coherent strategy no matter the personnel changes week-to-week. They are overwhelming favourites tonight and Emery has two wins and a draw in the three games his side have played against Chelsea since he succeeded Steven Gerrard. Boubacar Kamara and Douglas Luiz have forged a fantastic partnership that must be the envy of Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez and demonstrates what astute recruitment, an air of calm and common purpose, and fine coaching can achieve.

Much at stake, then, Not least the prize, priceless in this author’s opinion, the visit of Leeds United on Feb 28.

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