Sir Alex Ferguson might have thought that Manchester United were wasteful at St James' Park on Monday, but he only had to see Chelsea last night to know that complacency is catching in the Premiership title race. This is the worst sequence of results in Jose Mourinho's Chelsea reign yet still the old Scot cannot put him on the canvas.
The Chelsea experience is very different these days, the great blue match-winning machine that gobbled up the points wherever it went has seized up and the opposition are not going to their fate with anything like the usual meekness. Three consecutive draws would not represent a crisis of confidence in many other worlds other than that of Mourinho where the standard is never any lower than victory.
And yet when he said last night that he was "happy" with a point, it was hard to disagree. Goalless draws at Villa Park on a cold Tuesday night in January was not Roman Abramovich's idea of fun when he decided to throw £300m at an English football club but Mourinho still has a sense of the wider picture. Chelsea's last three games have been United's chance to bayonet the champions, as it is, the gap is still just six points and the wounds are not fatal.
That presupposes that Mourinho can bring Chelsea back to the form that has swept them to the last two Premiership titles and last night showed that he has much work to do. It will take more than just John Terry hurling himself about at the back to put this football goliath back on track. Against an Aston Villa team who have not won in 10 games it was Chelsea who came under pressure at the end.
What is wrong with Chelsea? Last night you could start with Salomon Kalou and Shaun Wright-Phillips, the two wingers in a 4-3-3 formation who were lamentably off the pace.
In defence, there are even more problems, especially after Khalid Boulahrouz limped out with knee ligament damage that could rule him out for six weeks. Mourinho now claims that he is down to "zero" centre-backs, Ricardo Carvalho's booking mean he is suspended for one game - it is his good fortune that it is against Wycombe Wanderers in the Carling Cup.
With Terry in the Villa Park stands, Chelsea looked desperately vulnerable with Paulo Ferreira as temporary cover in the centre. Mourinho is clinging to the hope that accompanies his captain's return and the projected comebacks of Arjen Robben and Petr Cech later this month. Last night, however, there was a stronger case than ever that Mourinho will have to buy.
He launched an attack on the inflated prices he feels Chelsea are expected to pay because of Abramovich's wealth and vowed to stop selling or loaning players to clubs if the transfer fees did not come down. He denied that he was talking specifically about the Manchester City full-back Micah Richards when he said that clubs were asking the kind of "price of a Diego Maradona in the 1980s for ordinary players".
Mourinho said that Chelsea have not yet made a bid for the 18-year-old who has been priced by his club at around £18m. "It's like if I know an Aston Martin costs £250,000 and the man in the showroom says I have to pay £1m, then I say 'Goodbye'," he explained. For a club like Chelsea it was a fitting comparison.
Martin O'Neill is travelling in much more humble transport at the moment although he too said he was happy with a result that "stopped the rot" of four consecutive defeats. Gavin McCann was the night's outstanding performer given the midfield forces ranged against him and the youthful pairing of Liam Ridgewell and Gary Cahill did well to shut out Didier Drogba even if it was, at times, more by luck.
Named among the substitutes yet again, Andrei Shevchenko finally took his bow 65 minutes into the match albeit introduced by a stadium announcer who could not even pronounce his name correctly. Are there any more humiliations yet to be visited on the £31m man? Not so long ago Mourinho was winning games with adroit tactical changes and subtle alterations of momentum. Now he is reduced to sending on a striker so patently out of form that his introduction feels like one last roll of the dice. If ever there was a time for Shevchenko to deliver on his considerable reputation then it was last night. It was no surprise that he did not.
Chelsea failed to create much of importance in the first half. Their best chance of the first half came from Michael Essien's cross in the eighth minute that Drogba volleyed wastefully into the ground and over. It was those two and Frank Lampard who provided all the drive and direction while Kalou and Wright-Phillips floundered.
Only in the hectic final moments did Chelsea show any real menace. Lampard snatched at a volley and Drogba headed wastefully over but Villa had just as much possession. This is, it seems, the great Chelsea blip at last. It has taken more than two years to arrive. The only question remaining is: how long will it last?
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Kiraly; Mellberg, Cahill, Ridgewell, Bouma; Davis (Baros, 76), Gardner (Osbourne, 27), McCann, Petrov; Agbonlahor, Angel. Substitutes not used: Olejnik (gk), Samuel, Hughes.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Ferreira, Carvalho, Boulahrouz (Geremi, 33), A Cole; Essien, Makelele, Lampard; Wright-Phillips (Shevchenko, 67), Drogba, Kalou (Mikel, 76). Substitutes not used: Hedman (gk), Bridge.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Booked: Aston Villa McCann; Chelsea Drogba, A Cole, Carvalho.
Man of the match: McCann.
Attendance: 41,006.Reuse content