Chelsea's ambitions of bouncing back from their crushing 3-1 defeat at Arsenal on Boxing Day was spoilt after being held to a 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa.
Despite the Blues taking the lead in the first half with a trademark header from Olivier Giroud, they were held back just after the break after Anwar El Ghazi's volley was allowed to stand in controversial fashion.
Even though there was a late push from the home side, the points were shared, which is bound to please Aston Villa boss Dean Smith more than Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, who has had questions surrounding his future at the club in recent weeks due to Chelsea's poor form.
The result puts Aston Villa up to 5th, while Chelsea move up to 6th, albeit with more games played than most other teams in the league.
Story of the Match
Chelsea made 6 changes from the side that lost at Arsenal, with Lampard claiming that most of them occurring due to rotation to avoid additional fatigue and injury rather than due to their performances at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday. Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma, Reece James, Mateo Kovacic, Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham all came out of the side and were replaced by Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Olivier Giroud.
Aston Villa, meanwhile, just made the 1 change from the side that comfortably beat Crystal Palace 3-0 on Boxing Day, with the suspended Tyrone Mings replaced by Ezri Konsa in defence.
A slow and cagey start to the game saw limited chances. The first real attempt of the game came from American winger Christian Pulisic, who intercepted a pass in the opposition half only to skew his shot wide of Emiliano Martinez's post. Villa then responded with a chance of their own, with Matty Cash capitalising on Edouard Mendy's unconvincing catch, though he could only spurn his shot over the bar.
Minutes after Pulisic failed to convert an acrobatic shot from close range, Chelsea finally took the lead towards the end of the first half as Olivier Giroud's diving header converted Ben Chilwell's cross past his former Arsenal teammate Martinez. The goal was checked by VAR for a potential offside against Chilwell but the goal stood and meant that Chelsea led the game at half time.
Soon after the break, Villa managed to find their equaliser. Matty Cash's floating ball found the in form Egyptian Anwar El Ghazi, who volleyed home unmarked at the back post. However, Chelsea weren't happy that the referee failed to give a foul for Jack Grealish's kick out at Andreas Christensen in the build up which left the Chelsea defender on the floor throughout the move, which meant that they were a man light at the back. Due to rule changes enforced at the start of this season, it was not looked at by VAR due to it being considered a different passage of play, and the goal was allowed to stand.
Villa then came close to taking the lead soon after, as John McGinn's powerful strike from 30 yards left Mendy motionless, but his effort ended up cannoning off the crossbar.
And it was not until stoppage time that Chelsea had a real chance to gain all 3 points, as Hudson-Odoi floated a cross towards the back post that was met with Ben Chilwell's sweetly struck volley which narrowly went wide. The match ended with a point apiece.
Christian Pulisic is good- but he's no Eden Hazard: A common theme throughout the match was Chelsea's increasing reliance on Christian Pulisic to be the creative hub of the team, mostly because he's one of only a few players in the Chelsea side that wants to take players on one on one. And while Pulisic has done well in the team since his return from injury, his lack of goal contributions evidence that he cannot be utilised as the team's talisman like he was at the closing stage of the last campaign. There's similarities in the way that Pulisic is used to how Eden Hazard was used under Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea during the 2018/19 season, but as a young player with a lot to learn in the game, it's time to take the pressure off of him to be the one creating and scoring all the chances and just let him express himself.
McGinn continues to prove value to Villa: The man of the match in this game was easily Aston Villa's midfield maestro John McGinn, who continues to have a very impressive season alongside Douglas Luiz at the base of the Aston Villa midfield. And while Jack Grealish has been the one grabbing the headlines for the Villains, McGinn's influence has been undeniable this season as Villa have come on leaps and bounds this campaign. He dealt well with his defensive requirements in the game, and almost grabbed the winning goal, only to be denied by the crossbar.
Time for Chelsea to go back to the drawing board: In the past 6 games, which has seen Chelsea win just 1 game and lose 3, it has been clear to see that Frank Lampard's ideas when it comes to winning games just isn't working without the influence of Hakim Ziyech, who has spent those 6 games out with a hamstring injury. Constantly bereft of ideas and overly reliant on crosses, Chelsea need to take their time to carefully think how to get the best out of their key players and improve at breaking down teams that drop back and play defensively. If the possibility of a postponement of Chelsea's fixture with Manchester City that is currently scheduled for Sunday was to come to fruition, Chelsea would have 13 days until their next game, against Morecambe in the FA Cup on 10th January. If Chelsea want to improve and get back on track, they need to use this time wisely to make sure that they have the creativity and inventiveness to get out of their poor run of form.