If Chelsea end the season with a top-four finish, it’s early performances like Sunday’s that will be the foundation of their success.
Chelsea came up against a Newcastle team intent on frustrating their visitors with a wall of defenders, but Chelsea were able to find their way through for a 2-1 win.
It wasn’t that straightforward, though. For all of Chelsea’s 81% possession in the match, the Blues found it very hard to create any clear chances for the first 75 minutes of action. Every time a Chelsea player touched the ball, they were met by a host of Newcastle players who were intent on denying their opponents any type of space.
Eden Hazard made his first start of the season, and just one minute in when Matt Ritchie clattered him with mistimed challenge, it was clear that he was in for special attention.
As he does, Hazard kept getting back up after every kick and kept coming at the Newcastle defence despite often finding himself surrounded by what seemed like the entire Newcastle team.
It was Pedro that came closest to scoring in the first half for Chelsea, first robbing Ki in possession and cutting inside before curling a left-footed shot over the bar. Then moments later, Hazard found Pedro just inside the penalty area, and Pedro’s low drive was collected by Martin Dubravka.
Chelsea continued to dominate the ball in the second half, and Hazard continued to torment Newcastle. Hazard once again found Pedro in space on the right, and Pedro left the ball for Cesar Azpilicueta whose shot was saved.
Just before the hour, Azpilicueta picked out Alvaro Morata in a rare pocket of space, but Morata’s touch was too heavy and allowed Fabian Schar to recover and clear.
It was Schar’s mistake on 75 minutes that finally broke the deadlock. Marcos Alonso’s foray into the penalty area led to the Swiss defender sliding in to win the ball. Despite winning the ball, Schar’s trailing leg impeded Alonso, and referee Paul Tierney pointed to the spot, despite the appeals from Newcastle players.
Hazard stepped up and coolly hammered the ball past Dubravka, and Newcastle appeared to be on the ropes now that they’d have to come out and attack.
But Joselu responded for Newcastle, reacting quicker than David Luiz to meet a cross from DeAndre Yedlin and guide it past Kepa Arrizabalaga to give Newcastle an unlikely equaliser. This time, it was Chelsea’s turn to feel aggrieved as Yedlin caught Olivier Giroud with an inadvertent elbow that went unpunished in the build-up to the goal.
But perhaps karma struck just minutes later when Giroud’s header back across goal fell to Alonso, and Yedlin prodded Alonso’s volley into his own net to put Chelsea ahead for good.