Chelsea went down to a third Premier League defeat of the season as Aston Villa won 1-0 at Stamford Bridge after Malo Gusto was shown a second-half red card.
Villa broke away and scored through Ollie Watkins 17 minutes from the end, and though the 10 men laboured gainfully to get back into the game their goalless run in the league under Mauricio Pochettino stretched to three matches as they remained 14th.
Chelsea were on top and looking far the likelier to score when a pitchside VAR decision just before the hour mark turned proceedings against them. Gusto had slid in on Lucas Digne and caught the defender on the ankle, and a yellow card was quickly upgraded to red for dangerous play.
Pochettino’s side continued to attack in numbers, and it would prove their undoing, Watkins outfoxing Levi Colwill to score on the rebound after the 10 men had poured forward, as Villa won for the second season running in front of an audibly frustrated home support in west London.
Chelsea opened with a greater attacking purpose than they had shown in recent scoreless outings against Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth.
After four minutes, Moises Caicedo took a chance and drilled low and hard from distance into the gloves of Emiliano Martinez, a comfortable enough save for Villa’s goalkeeper but an early show of intent from the home side.
Raheem Sterling and Mykhailo Mudryk were heavily involved during the opening 15 minutes, finding space without the ball and attacking Villa down either flank when in possession. Nicolas Jackson too showed pace and power through the middle as Chelsea threatened from all angles.
But it was Villa, increasingly stretched at the back, who nearly took the lead and in the most spectacular fashion after 20 minutes.
Douglas Luiz’s corner was only partially cleared, and the ball dropped out of the air to the waiting Digne who whacked an audacious looping volley from all of 35 yards that Robert Sanchez brilliantly tipped over the bar.
Chelsea had not scored in the league since August but here they played through Villa with a confidence that belied their modest goal return of five under Pochettino.
Mudryk tucked a superb ball in behind the defence for Jackson to run on to, the striker’s cunning to find space matching the brilliance of his teammate’s vision. Jackson went for the near post and Martinez turned it behind, but it was as fine an attacking move as Stamford Bridge had witnessed this season.
Enzo Fernandez should have broken the deadlock when he shot first time from Gusto’s pull-back, the Argentinian failing to make the best of a good opening after Gusto had stretched every sinew keeping the ball in play.
Sanchez saved acrobatically from Nicolo Zaniolo’s volley as Villa came on strong late in the half. At the other end Mudryk capped a lively first period when he raced away from Matty Cash and zipped the ball low across goal only to find that nobody in blue had gambled.
Sterling began the second period as he had ended the first, racing away from Villa down the right and trying to tuck the ball inside Martinez’s near post. The goalkeeper spread himself well to smother, but Chelsea’s threat was growing.
Then came a moment to turn to the tide of that pressure. Gusto’s challenge on Digne was late and caught the Villa defender on the ankle. The initial decision was yellow card, but a pitchside VAR review saw it upgraded to a red as boos rained down on the referee from home fans.
The sending off did not drastically alter the course of things at first, Chelsea’s pressure on Villa’s defence remained. Yet it was ultimately to be their undoing.
There seemed to be little on when Villa won the ball back high in the Chelsea half. One ball released Moussa Diaby who dashed into the space left by Gusto’s departure, and in a flash he fed Watkins.
Colwill seemed to have things under control when he slid to block Watkins’ initial shot, but before he could recover and clear the Villa striker had taken up the ball and lashed his second effort past Sanchez from an angle and in off the far post.
Ben Chilwell on as a substitute missed when one-on-one with Martinez, then moments later Axel Disasi, now moved out to right-back, burst into the box and skewed horribly wide as he lashed at his shot.
Jacob Ramsey tested Sanchez when he stepped inside and curled towards the bottom corner, this time the goalkeeper finger-tipped the ball to safety.
By then, Chelsea’s attacking rhythm had been critically disrupted, and Villa saw the win out amid a chorus of discontent around Stamford Bridge.