AGAINST Arsenal last week Aston Villaâ€™s team had been laid low by a virus; this time they were brought to their knees by a phenomenon they found similarly impossible to defend against and equally destructive to their morale and their victory chances, in the rather more human shape of Diego Costa.
The Chelsea striker scored one â€“ his eighth goal in six league matches â€“ and created another before coming off to spend the last 10 minutes resting his suspect hamstrings, the leadersâ€™ victory assured. It was a fine if imperfect display from the Spaniard, whose passing outside the penalty area was often imprecise, but, more importantly, his movement was constant and menacing, and when the ball fell his way in the area he was typically devastating.
JosÃ© Mourinho said that goals were of particular importance for Costa given that he is doing â€œalmost nothingâ€ in training. â€œFor me whatâ€™s important is that the team scores enough goals to win,â€ he said. â€œBut I know itâ€™s good for him and for his confidence, especially for a player like him whoâ€™s not training as he should, so he cannot be on top of his game.â€
Having complained earlier in the week that Spain remain free to select Costa despite his injury concerns, Mourinho now pinpointed the period next month in which they have back-to-back qualifiers against Slovakia and Luxembourg as key to Costaâ€™s long-term fortunes for club and country. â€š
â€œIf he stays here, and spends 15 days just on treatment and recovery and making the muscle stronger, he has the perfect chance to be top for Chelsea and for the national team,â€ he said. â€œIf he doesnâ€™t have this chance, he will always play one game, and the next heâ€™s in trouble.â€
He played this game, and it was Villa who were in trouble. The visitors had built their impressive early-season form on defensive solidity rather than attacking brio â€“ they arrived here with three clean sheets and just eight shots on target in five previous games â€“ but a team that struggles so badly to create and take chances is unlikely to prosper against this calibre of opponent.
They were never overrun but Thibaut Courtois made only one save, from Alan Huttonâ€™s tame effort at the end of a long individual run in the 69th minute, despite a flurry of almost-chances at the start of each half.
â€œAgainst teams like this, when you get a chance you have to score,â€ said the Villa manager, Paul Lambert. â€œBut when you come here, if you get beat youâ€™ve got to leave with your confidence intact, which we certainly are. Other than failing to get a goal, I couldnâ€™t ask for anything more.â€
From Lambertâ€™s perspective there was an element of misfortune about the first and third goals, with Willian benefitting from handy ricochets on both occasions.
For the first, the Brazilian was sent scurrying down the right by Branislav Ivanovic and, with all team-mates to his left marked, he shot low and hard towards the near post. Brad Guzan pushed the ball straight back into his path, and this time Willian pulled back to the now-clear Oscar, whose finish trundled through Philippe Senderosâ€™s legs on its way to goal.
Willian came close to a second in the 15th minute when he ran on to Costaâ€™s excellent backheel flick and set off down the centre but Nathan Baker diligently shepherded him wide of goal, from where his shot was deflected the wrong side of the near post.
Though their advantage remained slender, Chelsea displayed the class and confidence that befits league leaders and title favourites, with Oscar beating Senderos with a drop of the shoulder that provoked not so much cheers from the nearby fans as a collective sigh of pleasure, and Eden Hazard, who was otherwise becalmed, attempting a showy rabona.
â€œI donâ€™t remember feeling fear or scared or not comfortable,â€ said Mourinho. â€œThe team always gave the feeling that everything was under control.â€
All the more so when, in the 59th minute, the Villa defence was momentarily mesmerised by some neat triangular passing on the left and forgot to keep an eye on Costa, who scored with a powerful header when CÃ©sar Azpilicueta finally speared in a cross.
Twenty minutes later, Aly Cissokho having in the meantime cleared Oscarâ€™s casual effort as it rolled towards the line, Costa was found in too much space on the left, from where he cut inside, cut inside a little more and then sent in a shot that bounced off Guzan and Cissokho before landing helpfully between Willian and an empty net. – The Guardian