Chelsea failed to ease the mounting pressure on manager Frank Lampard as Aston Villa came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge on Monday, as a coronavirus outbreak at Manchester City caused their clash at Everton to be postponed.
Lampard’s men have now won just one of their last five league games to fall six points behind leaders Liverpool in sixth and having played a game more than the champions.
Chelsea also trail Villa on goal difference, despite Dean Smith’s men having two games in hand, and the visitors were well worthy of a point.
“Now it’s a tough moment and you have to fight through it,” said Lampard. “Nobody let me down tonight, everyone worked, we just didn’t quite get the rub of the green.”
Lampard was able to make six changes from the side beaten at Arsenal 48 hours ago.
Olivier Giroud was one of those drafted into the side and the French international proved his worth with a precise near post header from Ben Chilwell’s cross to open the scoring with his ninth of the season.
By contrast, Smith made just one enforced change from the team that played for 45 minutes with 10 men in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Crystal Palace.
But Villa showed no signs of fatigue in the second-half and levelled when Anwar El Ghazi turned home his fifth goal in as many games from Matty Cash’s cross five minutes into the second-half.
“I’m still yet to see a player carried off the pitch with exhaustion,” said Smith. “I’m a big believer in you want to play every game and if they are doing well keep playing them.”
For just the second time since the 2019/20 Premier League match season resumed in June, a match was postponed due to coronavirus infections after a spike at City.
The Manchester giants announced on Christmas Day there had been positive tests at the club for players Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus and two staff members.
A further round of tests revealed more positives on Monday, reportedly for three players, leading to the Premier League to agree to City’s request for the match to be called off.
“With the security of the bubble compromised, there posed a risk that the virus could spread further amongst the squad, the staff and potentially beyond,” City said in a statement.
“Based on strong medical advice the Premier League, in consultation with both clubs, have decided to postpone the fixture.”
The club’s training ground will now close for an “indeterminate period” with further testing on players and staff to take place before it can reopen.
City are due to face Chelsea away in the Premier League on Sunday and Manchester United in the League Cup semi-finals on January 6.
“The Premier League Board received medical advice that the match should be postponed,” the Premier League said in a statement.
“The Premier League continues to have full confidence in its protocols and rules, and the way in which all clubs are implementing them.”
Earlier, a much-changed Leicester moved up to second thanks to Harvey Barnes’ late equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.
With little over 48 hours rest between the Foxes’ 2-2 draw with Manchester United on Saturday and the trip to Selhurst Park, Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers made seven changes with Jamie Vardy, James Maddison and Youri Tielemans among those left on the bench.
Vardy in particular was missed as Kelechi Iheanacho had a first-half penalty saved by Vicente Guaita.
Wilfried Zaha’s stunning near post volley then put the Eagles in front against the run of play.
Vardy was summoned from the bench to find a route back into the game, but instead it was the in-form Barnes who scored an excellent equaliser as he wriggled clear of a number of Palace challenges before firing into the bottom corner.