Guus Hiddink was delighted with Chelsea’s attitude and ability as they won his first official match in charge, beating Aston Villa 1-0 to move above them to third place in the Premier League. Nicolas Anelka scored the goal, his 21st of the season, having been picked as well as Didier Drogba for the second successive week.
“I’d heard stories about divisions [in the squad] but I didn’t see them,” Hiddink said. “Having heard stories, I was surprised by the attitude. The team are pleased and satisfied after a week of good work, especially here, where you have to play a team not beaten for a long time. We can be very pleased with the way we played, especially in the first half. The only critical thing you can say about that is that we didn’t finish it off.”
Frank Lampard, who was outstanding, set up Anelka for the goal in that period, before Villa came back into the game, Ashley Young striking the bar from a free-kick. “In the second half we sat back a little bit too much,” Hiddink admitted. “We lost some easy balls by a lack of movement by other members of the team. We were a little bit too static. So we can improve. But overall it’s pleasing to get that away game in our pocket.”
It was a disappointing end to a big week for Villa, who have lost twice and drawn once in the space of seven days. Victory would have put them level on points with Liverpool, who play Manchester City today, but once again they proved unable to overcome one of the rivals they are trying to supersede. Their manager Martin O’Neill refused to be downcast, however. “Without wanting to make an excuse, three games in seven days had an effect,” he said. “We’re far from finished and there’s no dent in our belief. We’re disappointed but we’re sitting fourth in the table. Sometimes you can read too much into one result.”
O’Neill did admit, however, that like other teams before them, Villa are finding a Uefa Cup campaign has its drawbacks in causing injuries and fixture congestion. “We spent all last year breaking our necks to get into it, started in July in the InterToto Cup and now we’re having a second look at it,” he said. “The big four teams have the squads to cope and that’s something we’ll have to learn.”