Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea: Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud score quick-fire double

Chelsea's French striker Olivier Giroud (R) fights for the ball with Aston Villa's English defender Tyrone Mings during the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park in Birmingham, central England on June 21, 2020.

Quick-fire second-half goals from Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud saw Chelsea take a significant step towards Champions League qualification with a 2-1 win over Aston Villa on Sunday.

Frank Lampard’s side fought back after Kortney Hause had opened the scoring for the relegation-threatened Villains to earn all three points on their return to Premier League action, opening up a five-point cushion over fifth-placed Manchester United.

Despite the quick turnaround after a lengthy layoff, Dean Smith stuck with the same XI that had started the rather fortuitous draw against Sheffield United on Wednesday.

Lampard, meanwhile, handed a first start of the season to the fit-again Ruben Loftus-Cheek, while Giroud was preferred to Tammy Abraham up front and N’Golo Kante was deployed in his favoured defensive midfield position.

The Blues dominated the first half with Mason Mount coming closest to opening the scoring; first by testing Orjan Nyland with a rasping strike from the edge of the box, and then by steering a low ball across the face of goal that Loftus-Cheek came within inches of turning home.

There had been occasional warnings at the other end, with John McGinn glancing a header wide and Anwar El Ghazi keeping Kepa Arrizabalaga alert with a long-range effort, but when the hosts took the lead on the stroke of half-time it was firmly against the run of play.

Jack Grealish teased on the right, laying off to Douglas Luiz, who was allowed too much time to deliver an excellent cross and though Kepa once again denied El Ghazi, the visitors failed to clear and Hause reacted first to bundle in.

Chelsea again enjoyed all the possession and territory after the restart, but it took until the hour mark for them to grab a deserved leveller as Pulisic - just on as part of a double substitution by Lampard - met Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross at the far post and steered it beyond Nyland.

Within moments they had a second, this time Azpilicueta popping up on the opposite flank and finding Giroud with a smart cut-back, before the Frenchman swivelled to find the net with the help of a slight deflection.

Hause went nearest to stealing a point for Villa, glancing Conor Hourihane’s free-kick just beyond the far post, but the defeat means Smith’s men remain 19th, a point from safety ahead of next week’s trip to Newcastle.

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