An evening when Chelsea blew up and potentially blew their lead. Jose Mourinho still has not won at Villa Park in his entire career and, for the first time, you understand what he is saying about this entire campaign.
Chelsea have not yet lost top spot in the Premier League but this surprising defeat to Aston Villa – which saw Willian, Ramires and Mourinho himself all sent off – has now properly handed the initiative back to Manchester City. Should Manuel Pellegrini’s side win their games in hand, they will be fully clear, not just on goal difference.
That is the grace this game allowed. That is also the wider implication of this result, but not really the story of the match itself. As a consequence, meanwhile, Mourinho was not so graceful about the referee, Chris Foy.
At least three borderline decisions went against Chelsea, which eventually resulted in Aston Villa edging the game through Fabian Delph’s 82nd-minute winner. That all culminated in Mourinho being dismissed for attempting to confront Foy on the pitch. The Chelsea manager could not complain about that too much but could dispute some of the earlier calls.
In the first half, Nemanja Matic was adjudged to have handled the ball before he sent it over the line, despite the absence of protest.
Shortly afterwards, Joe Bennett was booked for hauling down Ramires just in front of the 18-yard box, with Ron Vlaar sufficiently close by to prevent a red card. It certainly seemed a more obvious card than the second yellow Willian received for bringing down Delph.
Mourinho, surprisingly, refused to comment on any of those incidents. “I prefer not to speak. If I speak, I will be in trouble and I don’t want to be,” he said. “I don’t want to do something that we are not allowed to do. We are not allowed to speak about the referees. I don’t want to be charged with bringing the game into disrepute.”
He did, however, comment an awful lot on Foy. Just at the end of the game, as Chelsea realised the result was beyond them, that frustration led to Ramires stamping on Karim El Ahmadi. He was sent off and Mourinho followed him. Afterwards, the Portuguese was asked whether he expected punishment. “Me? Me, or the ref? No, I don’t expect, because I did nothing.”
He also attempted to deflect attention on to Gabriel Agbonlahor, who got up off the bench to confront Ramires. “It’s a big occasion for me to know about the character of Mr Foy because I want to know what he’s going to write about my sending-off,” added Mourinho.
“If my sending-off was because I was on the pitch, two to three metres, I think we should be like [that for] 10 persons from the dugout: me, my two assistants. Paul [Lambert], Paul’s assistant, Agbonlahor, who came in and made an aggression on Ramires from behind.
“I think almost all of us just [wanted] to calm down and try to stop. So, if I was sent off because I was on the pitch, I ask why not the others, especially one player that made an aggression on another one, Agbonlahor on Ramires?”
Mourinho also revealed that he attempted to talk to Foy after the game. “I tried, but he refused to speak to me,” he said. “I tried to speak to Mr Foy twice. I tried to speak on the pitch and I tried in the dressing rooms. In the dressing rooms, I tried to ask politely, ‘can you give me five seconds’ and he refused.”
It is, however, difficult to refute the idea that Mourinho got it wrong. In the past few weeks, Chelsea have made a habit of starting slowly and finishing strongly enough to win.
Their last three games had been 0-0 at half-time and this was the same. On this occasion, though, they allowed the margins to get too small. With Chelsea finally trying to push in the second half and Villa always breaking dangerously, it forced the visitors into the kind of errors they could not recover from.
It remains to be seen how they will recover from this. “We are not in the title race,” said Mourinho. “We are in a match race. We play every match, we try to win, we think we can win, we give everything to win, sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t, but that’s our race.”
Villa certainly did that. When Lambert was asked about all the controversy involving his counterpart, he mischievously echoed a line that Mourinho had said about the Villa manager in August. “He reminds me of myself.”
Above all else, Chelsea were reminded of their flaws.td it, and Ireland went almost the length of the field with Trimble piercing the cover and O’Driscoll sidestepping Dulin – “I knew I didn’t have the gas to get him on the outside,” the great man smiled – before Sexton took a simple scoring line off a ruck and added the conversion. With a penalty by Sexton in the 53rd minute Ireland had a two-score lead.
That soon became one, via what looked a lucky escape for Cian Healy making a dangerous clear-out on Picamoles, when Dimitri Szarzewski finished a punishing series of rucks at the base of a post and Machenaud converted before giving way to Jean-Marc Doussain. The next thing to give way, after Sexton’s injury, was Ireland’s scrum, but Doussain missed the 30-metre penalty. Doussain was whistled up for holding on, then something similar befell Ireland.
A safe pass by Pascal Papé to Damien Chouly would have broken the Irish but Rob Kearney harried the France captain into fluffing it. Then came Vahaamahina’s rumble when it seemed the entire Emerald Isle were on the Frenchman’s back.
The Ireland and former Leinster head coach
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Guzan; Lacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett (Clark, 78); El Ahmadi, Westwood, Delph; Weimann, Benteke, Agbonlahor (Albrighton, 75).
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Ramires, Matic; Willian, Oscar (Schürrle, 67), Hazard; Torres (Ba, 67).
Referee: Chris Foy.
Man of the match: Delph (Villa)
Match rating: 7/10