Chelsea boosted their hopes of Champions League football next season by coming from a goal down on their return to Premier League action to beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Villa Park.
After dominating the majority of the first half, Frank Lampard's side found themselves trailing at the interval when, firmly against the run of play, Kortney Hause tapped home from close range in the 43rd minute to send Villa into the break with a shock lead.
However, the visitors responded with two quickfire goals, as strikes from substitute Christian Pulisic (60) and Olivier Giroud (62) completed the turnaround to secure all three points.
The victory could prove crucial for the fourth-placed Blues, who move five points clear of Manchester United and Wolves in fifth and sixth respectively, in the race for a top-four finish.
Meanwhile, the defeat is another blow to Aston Villa's chances of staying in the top-flight. Dean Smith's side remain in the relegation zone, one point adrift of safety.
Aston Villa: Nyland (6), Hause (7), Konsa (6), Mings (5), Targett (6), Luiz (7), McGinn (6), Hourihane (6), El Ghazi (6), Davis (6), Grealish (6).
Subs: Samatta (6), Nakamba (6), Trezeguet (6), Jota (n/a).
Chelsea: Kepa (6), Azpilicueta (7), Christensen (6), Rudiger (6), Alonso (6), Kante (7), Loftus-Cheek (6), Kovacic (6), Willian (6), Giroud (7), Mount (8).
Subs: Pulisic, (7), Barkley (6), Abraham (n/a).
Man of the match: Cesar Azpilicueta
How Chelsea fought back to stun Villa
Chelsea started in confident fashion and they dominated possession from the very first whistle, pinning Aston Villa firmly back in their own half. Their first real opportunity came in the 20th minute when Mason Mount's drive from 20 yards was punched away by the diving Orjan Nyland.
It was seemingly a case of testing Nyland from all angles after the ghost-goal incident in Villa's 0-0 draw with Sheffield United last Wednesday. Mateo Kovacic was next to test the Norwegian goalkeeper, and he spilled the midfielder's shot, but luckily for him he did not require Hawk-Eye to bail him out on this occasion as he managed to gather the loose ball as it trickled back towards the line.
John McGinn's glancing header drifted wide of the far post in a rare Villa attack, but Mount was once again involved as Chelsea pushed for the opening goal. The England international threaded an inviting cross towards the back post, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, playing his first Premier League game for over a year, was inches away from getting on the end of it.
Then, totally against the run of play, the hosts took a shock lead. Anwar El-Ghazi's close-range effort from Douglas Luiz's clipped ball into the box was blocked by goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, but Hause was on hand to tap in the rebound.
Lampard, in his 100th game as a manager, would have been left scratching his head at the break as to how his side found themselves behind, but he did not have to wait long for a response.
Chelsea were level just before the hour mark when Pulisic, who had replaced Loftus-Cheek just five minutes earlier, finished Cesar Azpilicueta's cross at the far post.
- Aston Villa boss Dean Smith named an unchanged starting line-up from his side’s opener against Sheffield United last Wednesday. In fact, he named an entirely identical 20-man squad to the one from that goalless draw.
- Ruben Loftus-Cheek returned from an Achilles injury sustained in a friendly in New York all the way back in May 2019 to make his first appearance under Frank Lampard. He was one of four changes from the side that thumped Everton 4-0 in March. N'Golo Kante was also fit to return, as was Mateo Kovacic, while Andreas Christensen was preferred to Kurt Zouma. Ross Barkley, Billy Gilmour and Pedro were named on the benched.
Just two minutes later and the turnaround was complete when Giroud's shot from near the penalty spot deflected off Conor Hourihane and past Nyland.
Willian went close to adding a third as Chelsea looked to close the game out, but they were nearly made to pay when substitute Jota curled inches wide of the far post with just minutes remaining.
Villa had five minutes of stoppage time to rescue something from the game, but it was Chelsea who held on for their first away victory in the calendar year.
Man of the Match - Cesar Azpilicueta
Normally a key player at the back for Chelsea, Azpilicueta popped up with two crucial assists as his side came from a goal down to seal victory.
The Chelsea skipper provided two assists in a single Premier League game for only the second time in his 263-game English top-flight career - also doing so versus Stoke in September 2017.
What the managers said...
Dean Smith: "We're playing against a quality opposition who have been in the Champions League for the lat 15 years, let alone the Premier League.
"They've got a fantastic squad of players and we made them work extremely hard today for that victory. It was good we took the lead and I thought we protected our goal really well. I think we ended up with more shots on target than them, and considering they had 70-odd per-cent possession it shows how well-organised we were.
"The one thing we've worked on during the pause has been being tougher to beat, blocking passing lanes and being harder to play through and I think anyone who saw that will have seen how hard Chelsea had to work to break us down."
Frank Lampard: "I'm really pleased with the performance, when Aston Villa had the opportunity to do this once before and it was new for us.
"We moved the ball well for most of the game. We dominated, but it's the story of some of our games, we need to be more clinical. But I can give the players some leeway because they've had a lot of time off. We showed great character and quality in the second half to win the game."
Opta stats - Villa's woes deepen
- Aston Villa have now lost five Premier League games after scoring first this season, two more than any other side in the competition.
- Villa have failed to win any of their last 21 Premier League matches against teams starting the day in the top four (D4 L17), since a 1-0 win at home to Chelsea in March 2014.
- Chelsea have won 10 of their last 11 Premier League matches against Aston Villa (L1), with Lampard either appearing as a player or managing the Blues in six of those 10 wins.
- Pulisic has been directly involved in seven goals in his last eight away Premier League games (five goals, two assists).
Chelsea now host Manchester City on Thursday at 8.15pm, while Aston Villa travel to Newcastle on Wednesday at 6pm.