Title challenge hopefuls Chelsea welcomed mid table Newcastle, and former Blues manager Rafa Benitez, to Stamford Bridge for the early kick-off on Saturday. As a result of the blistering pace set by league leaders Manchester City, every game for those below the Citizens has become a must-win affair. Chelsea sat 11 points off top spot heading into this game, and couldn’t afford to slip up at home. Newcastle meanwhile had tumbled down to 12th spot as a result of last weekend’s draw at West Brom, just two wins above the drop zone. The Magpies were without a win in their last five ahead of this high profile clash, and knew that a positive result would help steady the ship somewhat.
Gayle grabs an early opener, but Chelsea respond with ease
The significance of this game was not lost on either side, and the clash became a cagey affair early on with neither team wanting to make a mistake in the tentative early exchanges. Chelsea settled into a slow passing rhythm, while the visitors sat deep and looked to exploit the Blues on the break with the pace of Dwight Gayle. The counterattacking style suited Newcastle, who struck first with a well-deserved goal on the balance of play. An admittedly lucky ricochet put Jacob Murphy one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois, and the Belgian shot stopper got down well to deny the winger. Thankfully for the Magpies, Gayle was there on the follow-up, and the striker rolled the ball into the empty net to give his side an unlikely lead against the reigning Premier League champions.
Chelsea almost responded perfectly when an exquisite pass from Fabregas put Eden Hazard through on goal, but the Belgian couldn’t quite guide his shot past the onrushing Karl Darlow. Just moments later the Newcastle shot stopper collided clumsily with Alvaro Morata, but what looked to be a blatant penalty decision was waved away by Kevin Friend. In the end it took just nine minutes for the Blues to get themselves back into the game. An awkward clearance from Florian Lejeune gifted the ball to Hazard, who struck his shot into the ground to send it looping over Darlow, drawing his side level on the 20-minute mark.
Morata puts the Blues back in control
Chelsea’s equaliser seemed to restore the slower tempo to the game, after what was a frantic attacking spell by the home side. Newcastle began to maintain some more consistent spells of possession around the half hour mark, but it was Conte’s men who grabbed the all-important third goal. Some good work down the right wing allowed Victor Moses to drill in a superb cross, and Morata connected with a header from just three yards out to hand his side the lead. Much of Chelsea’s attacking build up play was concentrated down the right flank, and Moses became a constant thorn in the side of the Magpies defence.
The Blues began to pile on the pressure as the half time whistle approached, and Danny Drinkwater went close with a ferocious shot from 25-yards out. The trio of Hazard, Fabregas and Morata threatened to overwhelm Newcastle every time they went forwards, and in truth Benitez’s men were lucky that the lead stayed at just one goal heading into the break. Chelsea had been utterly dominant from the minute that the visitors opened the scoring, and Newcastle simply hadn’t been organised enough in midfield or defence.
Chelsea probe for a goal to kill the game
The home side started the second half in much the same manner that they had ended the first period, pressing Newcastle relentlessly and delivering dangerous crosses from the right flank. Morata almost grabbed his second of the game immediately after yet another cross by Moses, but this time the Spaniard couldn’t keep his shot down and guide it towards goal. The Blues appeared incredibly comfortable and were patient in attack, waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself as a result of the brilliant movement of Hazard and Morata. Until that time they were content to probe the Magpies’ defence at their own tempo.
Newcastle didn’t appear to have learned much from the first half as they continued to allow Fabregas far too much space and time in midfield. Hazard in particular caused the defence problems with his direct approach, and he was unlucky not to add to his tally after some dazzling footwork in the box, only to lose his balance at the last minute. Despite finding themselves a goal down, the visitors looked disinterested when it came to venturing forwards, and they allowed Chelsea to hold possession and knock the ball around with ease.
The Blues cruise to a comfortable victory
After so much patient build up play Chelsea finally found their opening, and it came after a clumsy challenge by Matt Ritchie on Moses in the Newcastle box. The referee pointed straight to the spot, and Hazard converted a cheeky panenka penalty to put the game out of reach for the visitors. The winger had another chance just minutes later to grab his hat-trick after a good pass from Morata, but this time Darlow was equal to the Belgian’s chipped effort and denied him with a decent save.
Chelsea continued to search for more goals, but the tempo of the game slowed as the clock ticked down towards an inevitable home win. Newcastle seemed to show little interest in getting back into the game, and they struggled to get out of their own half despite their desperate need for late goals. Dwight Gayle cut a lonely figure up front, and even the introduction of Jonjo Shelvey did little to aid the Magpies’ creativity. In the end the Blues ran out as comfortable and deserved winners.
After the initial scare of going 0-1 down, this ended up being a fairly routine victory for the Blues. With Fabregas, Morata and Hazard all hitting spells of good form, this Chelsea team looks devastating going forward, but they will be disappointed not to keep a clean sheet in this fixture. Last season’s success was built largely on defensive solidity, so seeing that go out the window somewhat in this campaign will no doubt worry Antonio Conte, especially given the form of the two Manchester clubs.
Despite their strong start Newcastle always looked destined to lose out in this tough fixture, and they looked largely toothless in attack. Gayle’s goal came after a decent bit of luck, and it was their only clear change of the game. With neither their defence nor attack playing with any real confidence, Benitez will have to change something in order to prevent a further slide down the Premier League table.
Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen (Cahill, 80’), Rudiger; Moses, Drinkwater, Fabregas (Bakayoko, 78’), Kante, Alonso; Hazard (Willian, 78’); Morata
Newcastle: Darlow; Manquillo, Lejeune, Clark, Mbemba; Diame (Shelvey, 75’), Merino (Yedlin, 85’); Ritchie, Perez (Hayden, 62’), Murphy; Gayle
Goals: Gayle (0-1, 12’), Hazard (1-1, 21’), Morata (2-1, 33’), Hazard (3-1, 74’)
Referee: Kevin Friend
Yellow Cards: Clark (45+1’)
Red Cards: None
Chelsea: Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 7 (Cahill n/a), Rudiger 7; Moses 9, Drinkwater 8, Fabregas 8 (Bakayoko n/a), Kante 7, Alonso 7; Hazard 9 (Willian n/a); Morata 8.5
Newcastle: Darlow 7; Manquillo 6, Lejeune 5, Clark 5, Mbemba 6; Diame 6 (Shelvey n/a), Merino 5 (Yedlin n/a); Ritchie 6, Perez 6 (Hayden 6), Murphy 6; Gayle 7
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