Antonio Conte’s Chelsea welcomed struggling Newcastle to Stamford Bridge for an all-Premier League fourth round FA Cup tie. The Blues have been in inconsistent form for much of this season, and headed into this clash off the back of a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in their League Cup semi-final second leg. The Magpies meanwhile have been struggling for goals generally this season, and suffered a 3-1 loss to Manchester City in their last outing. Both sides were thus using this game as a chance to get their form back on track, so it promised to be an intriguing matchup.
Neither side can find an opening early on
With Chelsea in desperate need of a win from this game in order to arrest their slump, they unsurprisingly settled into the lion’s share of possession in front of the Stamford Bridge faithful. While they often found themselves on the ball in the final third, the Chelsea attackers largely failed to created an opening inside the first ten minutes, and Newcastle began to look slightly threatening on the break. The visitors put a lot of pressure on N’Golo Kante in particular whenever the French international was in possession, but despite winning the ball high up the pitch they could never quite convert on offence.
The Magpies grew into the game past the 15-minute mark and seemed to have more desire and energy than the home side. They were competitive in the middle of the pitch, winning most of the 50-50s and outmuscling Kante and Danny Drinkwater on multiple occasions. As their pressure continued they started to force errors amidst the Chelsea defence, but Dwight Gayle failed to capitalise on a couple of half chances early on.
Batshuayi grabs a quick double
Newcastle continued their good spell of pressure towards the hour mark and Jonjo Shelvey almost grabbed a vital goal with a deft near post flick, but Willy Caballero got down well to deny the midfielder. For the most part however there was little penetration from either side, and Dwight Gayle cut a frustrated figure up top for the visitors. It was his Chelsea counterpart Michy Batshuayi who opened the scoring however after half an hour. A brilliant cross-field pass by Pedro put Eden Hazard through down the left flank, and the Belgian flicked a pass round a defender to Marcos Alonso. The fullback subsequently squared the ball to Batshuayi, and the Belgian striker tapped it into the open net, handing his side a relieving lead.
The goal came very much against the run of play, and it sparked an immediate response from the visitors. Gayle almost equalised with a low driven shot across goal, but Caballero was once again equal to the effort. The Magpies saw a lot of the ball in dangerous areas, but lacked a killer pass or instinctive finish to capitalise on their exploits in Chelsea territory. Newcastle’s inability to punish the home side almost cost them once again, and from an unlikely source. Central defender Antonio Rudiger came within inches of adding a second for the Blues with a wonderful curling shot, but it was Batshuayi who doubled the lead. The striker found himself in on goal after a smart pass from Hazard, and his deflected shot looped fortunately into the net, making Antonio Conte’s half time talk a little bit easier.
Newcastle don’t put up much of a fight
The second half began in a similar fashion to the first, with Chelsea wresting control of the game from the visitors by maintaining long spells of possession. With a 2-0 lead the Blues seemed to slow the tempo of the game, looking to frustrate Newcastle by knocking the ball around methodically in midfield. Their long passing moves often came to nothing, but when they did eventually find an opening it resulted in a decent effort from Pedro. The Spaniard’s shot skimmed the top of the crossbar, reminding the Magpies of the threat that the home side posed.
Rafa Benitez’s side looked to have all but given up on this game as the hour mark approached, and Marcos Alonso would have finished off the game completely with a venomous volley if not for a brilliant save by Karl Darlow in the Newcastle net. As the game progressed the tempo slowed even further, and Chelsea grew increasingly comfortable with every passing minute. Despite finding themselves down by two goals, Newcastle presented little attacking threat, and were nothing like the team that had put the Blues under pressure in the first period.
Alonso’s free kick rounds out Chelsea’s win
Chelsea were eventually rewarded for their utter dominance with a third goal, this time courtesy of Marcos Alonso. It was yet another free kick goal for the Spaniard, who curled the ball expertly over the wall and into the top corner, leaving Darlow no chance. The strike put the final nail in Newcastle’s coffin, and it appeared as though both sides would subsequently turn their attention to the midweek Premier League games, a notion emphasised by the withdrawal of Hazard for the remaining quarter of an hour. For Newcastle the final minutes represented little more than a search for a consolation goal.
As the clock ticked down into the final minutes the game began to drag, and neither side seemed interested in playing with any real pace. Chelsea did look for a fourth goal however, and Pedro had a great chance saved by Darlow late on. Davide Zappacosta nearly got on the score sheet too with a mishit cross that forced a reflex save from the Newcastle shot stopper, and Batshuayi too was twice denied his hat-trick in the dying seconds. In the end it finished in a deserved 3-0 victory for the home side, and Stamford Bridge saluted their team’s dominant performance.
For Chelsea this ended up being a fairly routine victory, and it was one that will give them a huge amount of confidence, given their recent struggles. The Blues weathered the storm brought by Newcastle in the first half and managed to find a breakthrough. Having not scored too frequently in recent games, a high-scoring win is exactly what Antonio Conte would have wanted, and Chelsea now progress to the next round of the FA Cup.
Newcastle once again came unstuck against a Premier League team in the FA Cup, and in truth they utterly capitulated after Chelsea’s second goal. Before that moment the Magpies had looked the better side for much of the first half, and their response in the second period was incredibly disappointing. Rafa Benitez is unlikely to be pleased with this performance, but their focus remains solely on escaping relegation from the top flight come the end of the season.
Chelsea: Caballero; Rudiger, Christensen, Cahill, Zappacosta, Alonso; Drinkwater, Kante (Ampadu, 78’); Pedro (Hudson-Odoi, 81’), Hazard (Barkley, 73’), Batshuayi
Newcastle: Darlow; Clark, Lascelles, Mbemba, Manquillo (Murphy, 77’); Hayden (Atsu, 83’), Shelvey, Haidara; Saivet, Ritchie, Gayle (Joselu, 64’)
Goals: Batshuayi (1-0, 31’), Batshuayi (2-0, 44’), Alonso (3-0, 72’)
Referee: Kevin Friend
Yellow Cards: Mbemba (17’)
Red Cards: None
Chelsea: Caballero 7.5; Rudiger 7, Christensen 7, Cahill, Zappacosta 7, Alonso 7.5; Drinkwater 6.5, Kante 7 (Ampadu n/a); Pedro 7 (Hudson-Odoi n/a), Hazard 7 (Barkley n/a), Batshuayi 8.5
Newcastle: Darlow 7; Clark 6, Lascelles 6, Mbemba 5.5, Manquillo 6 (Murphy n/a); Hayden 6 (Atsu n/a), Shelvey 6, Haidara 6; Saivet 6, Ritchie 6, Gayle 5.5 (Joselu n/a)
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