Aston Villa lost 3-1 to Chelsea at Villa Park on Sunday without manager Steven Gerrard in their dugout.
The former Liverpool legend tested positive for Covid-19 in the lead-up to the match and entered isolation.
Under the direction of assistant coaches Gary McAllister and Michael Beale, Villa went ahead in the 28th minute via a Reece James own goal.
Jorginho converted penalties on both sides of halftime, and Romelu Lukaku scored the game-winner for the Blues in the 56th minute.
Here are the takeaways from a generally forgetful home defeat.
Defensive errors doomed Villa
All three of Chelsea’s goals came directly from errors by Villa defenders. Jorginho’s first penalty in the 34th minute came moments after Matty Cash took down Callum Hudson-Odoi.
The Italian converted on his second spot-kick in the 93rd minute after Lukaku beat Matt Targett and prompted Ezri Konsa to pull him down in the box.
Lukaku, introduced as a substitute after the break, gave the Villa backline fits. Just 11 minutes into the second half, the Belgian broke free from Tyrone Mings in the box and scored a perfectly-placed header from a cross on the left side.
All four Villa defenders were responsible for mistakes, but Cash and Mings particularly caught heat on social media following the match. True, top quality wasn’t on display on Sunday, but to call into question both defenders’ abilities is unfair.
Mings has been stalwart for club and country, and Cash has been Villa’s most consistent player this season. Despite the foul on Hudson-Odoi, Cash led Villa in shot-creating actions, progressive passes, and blocks.
Strike partnership not working
On Sunday, we got another taste of Villa’s disappointing strike-force partnership of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings.
There’s no denying either players’ quality, but this partnership just isn’t working. Watkins is a clear No. 9 who excels playing as a lone striker. The hope was that Ings, familiar with a two-striker system, would provide a second option in a more withdrawn role.
That hasn’t worked, and it led to Villa lining up Watkins behind Ings in what looked like a 4-3-2-1 formation against Chelsea.
The result: a few missed opportunities between the duo and an expected goals rating (xG) of just 0.40.
Since Gerrard’s appointment, Watkins has played as Villa’s sole striker with Ings missing due to injury. The England international has played well and found his groove, but looked all out of sorts on Sunday with Ings ahead of him.
As per Villa Analytics on Twitter, Ings “has the lowest non-penalty xG per 90 (0.15) and the lowest xA (expected assists) per 90 (0.02) of any Premier League forward this season.”
It’s just not working for Ings and Villa at the moment. In truth, he looks like a panic buy by the Villa brass.
Morgan Sanson showed his pedigree
After battling injury and illness for nearly all of 2021, Morgan Sanson started for Villa with John McGinn unavailable.
The Frenchman’s performance was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise disappointing afternoon.
Calm and responsible in possession, Sanson made five progressive carries against Chelsea. Additionally, he led all players with 28 pressures and won 11 of 13 ground duels.
He and Jacob Ramsey, who also turned in a strong performance with 94.2% passing accuracy and 14 progressive carries, did well enough to bridge the gap between defense and attack in the first half, but quality chances proved to be few and far between.
The glimpse of Sanson’s quality was a pleasant surprise, especially considering he’s far off full-match fitness. The midfielder will be a key player for Gerrard after the New Year.