A fixture that Chelsea won in Guus Hiddink's first League game last February with an early goal seemed to be going precisely the same way when Brad Friedel allowed Didier Drogba to score from 30 yards. Eight months on, however, Aston Villa have more about them than the side that faded so badly after that defeat last season and by profiting from some unusually poor defensive work they scored twice from corners to achieve another victory over one of the acknowledged big four to follow success at Liverpool in August.
Friedel and James Collins, who had been too easily turned for Drogba's goal, recovered well, the goalkeeper bringing off a series of saves to preserve the lead. James Milner, having demonstrated his versatility for England by filling in at left-back on Wednesday, was excellent on more familiar ground wide on the right, where he worked prodigiously before moving back inside as Villa retreated into a 4-5-1 formation for the final quarter of an hour.
Emile Heskey, another England candidate in need of playing time, was given only 10 minutes as a substitute and cannot expect to displace John Carew in the big Norwegian's current form; Ashley Young, dropped by Fabio Capello, and Gabriel Agbonlahor, who replaced him in the squad, were fitfully impressive, two inswinging corners by the right- footed Young bringing the goals.
The visitors worked some neat triangles in midfield but were dependent as ever on the full-backs to supply their width and even when Joe Cole was introduced for his first League appearance of the season towards the end, he went into Deco's role behind the two strikers. Carlo Ancelotti might have been expected to send John Terry forward for the final fling; instead his team continued to try threading short balls through the needles of the Villa defence. It was a packed defence by then, and with Richard Dunne another lionheart alongside Collins, Drogba and Nicolas Anelka were continually crowded out.
Villa's manager Martin O'Neill said: "Maybe we've learnt some lessons from last year. When we played Chelsea in February we were third in the table, going strong but we surrendered fourth spot and finished sixth. I think we've made progress, we've got some good players and a decent squad and that's been really encouraging."
Having been brought down to earth in embarrassing and painful fashion on the touchline when Anelka crashed into him, O'Neill is now hoping that he and his players will keep their feet on the ground. "It's a setback for Chelsea and a great boost for us, but I wouldn't draw 15 conclusions from one game. I think Chelsea are a great side."
As in defeat at Wigan recently, they rarely looked like one yesterday. Pushed back while Villa started as brightly as the autumn sunshine, they must have surprised themselves in taking the lead after 15 minutes; all the more so since the vastly experienced Friedel was at fault on his 198th consecutive League appearance.
Frank Lampard played an ordinary pass forward for Drogba, who turned it into a threatening one with his sudden turn past Collins. The shot from almost 30 yards was routine until it bounced in front of the goalkeeper, who would have kept it out had he not gone to ground, watching in anguish as the ball reared up over his arm.
Before half-time there were further opportunities for Deco and Drogba, but Friedel redeemed himself with a superb save and Collins blocked bravely. In between times, critically, Villa had won an equaliser. Young whipped over a corner from the left, and Lampard merely nudged his header dangerously across goal, where Dunne was unmarked to head in for the second successive match.
Chelsea were rattled, Drogba running 20 yards to bawl out Ashley Cole, who was immediately booked for an unnecessary foul. Worse, they conceded another bad goal only six minutes into the second half. It was almost what Match of the Day used to call an action replay: Young's corner, dreadful marking with the goalkeeper Petr Cech nowhere and a firm header by an unattended centre-half – this time Dunne's partner Collins.
Ancelotti's initial reaction was that his team had played "a good match". Further analysis of the videotape before he concentrates on Atletico Madrid this week may offer conflicting evidence.
Steve Bennett having declared himself unfit – no jokes please, Sir Alex – the fourth official Kevin Friend took over for his third Premier League match of the season and handled it well.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Man of the match: Milner
Match rating: 8/10