Newcastle 0-3 Chelsea:The Scoreline Flatters Chelsea


The scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story, as Chelsea were severely tested by Newcastle United for most of an entertaining game, before finishing them off with two goals in the dying minutes.

The home team had the hard-working duo of Jonás Gutierrez and Cheick Tioté out, so Peter Løvenkrands and Danny Guthrie came in. Captain Fabricio Coloccini went off injured after just 28 minutes and was replaced by utility player James Perch. Chelsea started with Didier Drogba up front, while Oriol Romeu continued in the holding role after an impressive outing against Wolves.

First half: Mata roams free

Newcastle began strongly, passing well and getting the fullbacks forward a lot. They were aided by the chaos created by David Luiz; first, bringing Demba Ba down in front of goal (it’s inconceivable how he wasn’t sent off), before gifting the ball to the striker who could have set up Løvenkrands. Luiz appeared at one point to show one of the strengths of his game, his darting runs forward, but he only succeeded in losing the ball high up the pitch.

But once this frantic opening had passed, Chelsea began to dominate. While the central midfielders on both sides appear matched up, Chelsea gained an advantage from Juan Mata’s tendency to move into central positions. With Danny Simpson unwilling to track him, he found space very easily and was a constant threat. While his cross for Drogba’s headed goal on 38 minutes was more of a result of Cabaye losing during a throw-in, it was another great example of the Spaniard’s clever movement.

Danny Sturridge was a threat on the right, constantly getting behind Ryan Taylor. While Alan Pardew sensed this and seemed to instruct both his fullbacks to stay in position, Sturridge’s pace and smart running still got him into good positions, but his decision-making in the box was often poor.

The Blues didn’t have it all their own way, as Newcastle’s central midfielders remained neat when they got possession and continued to cause Chelsea problems; a great example being the patient build-up preceding Ba’s header late in the half, hitting the post.

Second half: Newcastle go direct, but can’t break through

Shola Ameobi came on for Hatem Ben Arfa at half-time. While this may have been disappointing in the sense that Newcastle were clearly not looking to pass their way to victory, it can be hard to play through Chelsea and Ameobi’s aerial presence was always going to help with long balls. Winning a flick-on for Ba early in the second half showed this perfectly, and he often won these by going up against Luiz rather than the dominant Terry.

To be fair to Ameobi, he also did well at bringing the long passes under control. After one such pass from Guthrie, he was unlucky to see his 25-yard effort hit the bar (shortly before Chelsea made it 2-0). Another direct ball into the box resulted in a chance for Sammy Ameobi, who had come on for Løvenkrands, but Terry was covering on the line. More crosses from the Newcastle wingers could have helped; Sammy Ameobi preferred to run at the heart of the defence while Gabriel Obertan was simply dreadful on the ball.

Chelsea’s approach was interesting – Andre Villas-Boas has generally seemed to prefer to press and play high up but being one goal up in a tough away match, he looked to sit his side deeper and play on the counter. It’s not clear if this was profitable defensively, as Newcastle were happy to play direct, but the home side were pushing up the pitch and leaving space in behind for Sturridge, whose wastefulness in good positions was becoming a running theme in the match.

It wasn’t surprising that Torres came on for Drogba for the last 10 minutes, the Spaniard’s pace being a clear threat on the counter despite his current dip in form and confidence. Sent clear though on goal by Ramires, he hesitated too long to take his own opportunity but still had the awareness to set up fellow substitute Kalou to seal the win in the 89th minute. With the wind taken out of Newcastle’s sails, Sturridge finally scored a goal of his own in stoppage time.

Overall points

It’s not unusual in the modern game to see playmakers in wide positions and today we saw the advantage they can have over those stationed in the middle. Danny Simpson was afraid to track Juan Mata, who wandered into the hole behind Newcastle’s midfield to have a real influence on the game. Hatem Ben Arfa struggled for space, being caught up in the congestion in the centre of the park. Accordingly, he had less impact, as seen by the first half passes chalkboards for the two players.

Meanwhile, the individual performance of Danny Sturridge was also prominent. His movement in behind Ryan Taylor was exceptional, while his dribbling in from the right is excellent, but he loses his composure too often in dangerous areas. With better decision-making, he could score and create more goals for Chelsea. These chalkboards shows often he gets into good positions but fails to find the right pass or a firm finish. (A small caveat being that he did get a goal late on, and is Chelsea’s top scorer!)

While Newcastle were reliant on another superb performance on Tim Krul to stay in the game, they can count themselves unfortunate having hit the woodwork on three occasions and having a shot cleared off the line. They’ve shown themselves capable of playing a short passing game and did well with a more direct approach today, although didn’t do enough to cope with Chelsea’s creativity in midfield; something we could put down to the absence of the imperious Tioté. While they’ve only picked up one point from their last three games (losing at Manchester City and drawing at United), they’ve put up good showings against the three pre-season title favourites and are very much stull in the running for European football.

Ihsaan Budaly

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