Neil Humphreys: Chelsea wake up Project Restart
Chelsea are first team to attack throughout the 90 minutes
Chelsea restarted Project Restart this morning (Singapore time). After a shaky start against Aston Villa, the Blues roused themselves and perhaps the season itself.
Until Frank Lampard's effervescent footballers completed their 2-1 comeback win at Villa Park, everything else had felt a bit muted.
Commentators, pundits and even supporters pretended otherwise, for obvious reasons of self-interest, but the opening matches reflected their strange reality.
|(Kortney Hause 43)||(Christian Pulisic 60, Olivier Giroud 62)|
They were quiet, overly ponderous and occasionally dull, suggesting the midsummer return was going to throw up more injuries than goals.
But Blues boss Lampard clearly thought otherwise.
He recognised that the driving impetus wasn't coming from the terraces. The empty stands had created a kind of emptiness in recent performances from Arsenal, Sheffield United, Tottenham Hotspur and even the two Manchester sides.
So Chelsea tried to create an atmosphere from within, attacking from the first minute and camping in Villa's half. Yes, the hosts are tipped for relegation, but the Blues drove forward relentlessly.
Without a doubt, this was the first performance of Project Restart played almost entirely on the front foot, giving hope that matches will not need to rely on fake noise to manufacture artificial excitement.
Chelsea proved otherwise. The promise of decent fare in the coming weeks finally looks a real possibility. Of course, any football is better than no football.
In recent days, though, it felt like there was almost no football.
The Blues pressed their case for the top three and Project Restart. Both are looking pretty good at the moment.
Nevertheless, it was a tad surprising that a game involving a team living in perpetual fear of relegation proved the most entertaining.
Aston Villa spent the first 42 minutes suggesting manager Dean Smith had misunderstood the Covid-19 restrictions. All 11 players socially distanced themselves from their opponents' half.
Indeed striker Keinan Davis looked as if he had been ordered to spend the match in quarantine. He rarely saw a teammate.
At one point, Chelsea enjoyed almost 90 per cent of possession for a full 10 minutes, as Villa encouraged the visitors to take charge.
The Blues fizzed. Lampard had presumably noticed that the matches played so far behind closed doors had inhibited the superior side.
He ordered his men forward at every opportunity, with his back four camping in Villa's half, even though his most important forward is yet to make his debut.
New striker Timo Werner, recently signed from RB Leipzig, doesn't officially become a Chelsea player until next month, but his regular selection is already a done deal.
Despite Ruben Loftus-Cheek's return on the left and Willian's liveliness on the right, the hole in the middle was self-evident. The Blues are at least a forward short of seriously challenging for major honours again.
Loftus-Cheek was understandably rusty, after such a lengthy injury absence, and was replaced in the second half, along with the erratic Mateo Kovacic.
Lampard had no choice. Chelsea were already a goal down in the biggest shock of Project Restart so far.
Villa were out-run and rarely tested Kepa Arrizabalaga, until they went ahead against the run of play - and against all logic - in the 43rd minute.
Douglas Luiz's exquisite cross reached Kortney Hause, who stabbed the ball home at the second attempt.
But neither Lampard nor Chelsea panicked.
A double substitution in the 55th minute - Kovacic and Loftus-Cheek going off for Ross Barkley and Christian Pulisic - enabled a shift in gears.
Chelsea were ahead seven minutes later.
On the hour mark, Cesar Azpilicueta's cross caused panic in the Villa box, until Pulisic jabbed in the equaliser.
Two minutes later, 33-year-old Olivier Giroud spun in the box and smashed in the Blues' second. For most of the match, the honest trier was honestly trying.
But Chelsea's lead was thoroughly deserved.
Their positive, industrious display is the kind of football that will keep them in the top four. More importantly, it will keep us watching every week.