Delighted Mourinho hails Ivanovic as his 'competitive animal'
Aston Villa 1 Chelsea 2
Branislav Ivanovic is Chelsea's man for all occasions - the "competitive animal" driving Jose Mourinho towards the Premier League title.
The Serbian warrior's vast importance cannot be underestimated this season, with another crucial goal on Saturday, and Mourinho has paid him the ultimate compliment by branding him one of Chelsea's best signings since Roman Abramovich's millions rolled in.
Signed for a fee of around £9m from Lokomotiv Moscow in January 2008, Ivanovic (below) arguably constitutes a bargain in these cash-infested times and is proving just as influential as Chelsea's entertainers higher up the field.
Artists such as Eden Hazard or Oscar would have been proud to claim a goal like the one at Villa Park, which swung the pendulum of the title race emphatically back towards Stamford Bridge.
The sight of Ivanovic's left foot being polished by team-mates in front of Chelsea's visiting supporters could be one of the defining images of this season.
"He is a great guy, what he is doing for us is unbelievable," Mourinho said.
"He had the injury against Liverpool (when his right boot was filled with blood) and played the rest of the game, played against Manchester City, played again on Saturday. Fantastic courage.
"Is he one of the club's best signings? I think so. He came immediately after I left and after that he made a fantastic contribution for this club. He is a competitive animal with a big heart.
"What really matters is what we as a club feel for him and people like John (Terry) and (Gary) Cahill. Without them, you cannot do nothing.
"A team is an artist like Hazard, it is a defender like Branislav. The mix and combination of talent makes a team."
Ivanovic's 66th-minute winner, a spectacular half-volley from inside the penalty area, enabled Chelsea to extend their lead over Manchester City to seven points and it felt like a pivotal afternoon.
Mourinho was remaining the Cautious One, however, but revealed that another key player, Cesc Fabregas, would return for the visit of Everton on Wednesday, with Chelsea marching towards a first Premier League title in five years.
"I think he plays Wednesday," Mourinho said. "Today was a decision in the limits to protect him. We didn't want to risk two players at the same time.
"Fabregas gives a lot of stability to the team. The player who is suspended (Diego Costa) is also a very important player for us.
"I'm happy because it is an important victory for us, without important players in our team.
"A Jose Mourinho team is a team like the others and, if we have a seven-point lead with two matches to go, we are champions.
"If we have a seven-point lead with three matches to go we still need two points. And it's not three matches to go, it's 14 so there is a long time to go."
This was Mourinho's first victory at Villa Park in six attempts and it appeared likely to be an easy afternoon when Hazard finished off a swift counter-attack in the eighth minute.
However, Jores Okore finally shattered Villa's goal drought early in the second half with a header - the club's first league goal in 11 hours - and there was a brief Chelsea wobble.
Ivanovic's finish sucked the life out of Villa's players, though, and not even City's late equaliser against Hull at the Etihad Stadium could damage the feel-good factor as Chelsea's players boarded the team bus.
Despite ending the jokes about their goal shortage, Villa remain in deep trouble and their trip to Hull City tomorrow night is huge.
Mourinho was clearly attempting to undermine Lambert by pointing out the strength of the Villa squad, later claiming that if the club were relegated "it is not because of the quality of their players".
Lambert, however, has far bigger issues to contend with than mind games as he attempts to avoid dropping into the bottom three." (© Daily Telegraph, London.)