A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s Premier League match away to Newcastle United.
Chelsea made the long trip up to the North East on Saturday for their away Premier League match against Newcastle United. It was a trip made with plenty of belief after The Blues had broken through a similarly resilient Burnley side in their last match.
And with an injury riddled team from the bottom half of the league expected to sit deep in an attempt to stifle Chelsea’s attacking threat, the assumption was that this match would all be about when Frank Lampard’s team would manage to breach through The Magpies’s defence.
The Chelsea manager had most of his squad available to him, especially after finally having a midweek void of any matches giving players more opportunity to recover from a number of niggles and complaints.
N’Golo Kante was one such player who returned to the starting line up in place of Ross Barkley, despite the Englishman’s performance against The Clarets. Otherwise it was the same team who played the full 90 minutes in the 3-0 last Saturday.
Steve Bruce has been guiding his squad through a horrendous list of injuries but there were glimmers of light midweek and the manager was able to recall Jonjo Shelvey, Matt Ritchie and Allan Saint-Maximin in to his Premier League matchday squad.
And similarly to the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge back in October, Newcastle lined up very defensively with a back 5, protected by a narrow midfield of 4.
It has been all too common for Frank’s team to be up against a compact, solid looking set up, and his players have generally struggled to break through.
But the fast paced football that his players managed to play in their last match had given hope that some answers had been found to the most valuable of questions and they scored as freely as ever this term against such determined opponents.
However, the early pace looked too steady once again going forward and the home defence were able to keep Tammy Abraham and the rest of The Blues at bay.
Then The Magpies luck with injuries struck again as left back Jetro Willems was stretchered off. He had been a key player for Bruce recently but was replaced by the returning Ritchie.
Both sides continued to toil and it was the home side who actually came closest to opening the scoring as Joelinton’s header hit the crossbar.
There was precious little change to the match early in the second half as the match became a poor advert for England’s top flight.
The home side were unable to make regular attacking plays, while Frank’s players seemed unable to breach the barricades in front of the home goal.
On the rare occasion they did get through, a combination of poor finishing and Dubravka kept Chelsea at bay. The Blues dominated throughout but ended with nothing to show for it.
They did little to upset the 2 banks of players in front of them. There are 2 usual methods of trying to unsettle such a well organised set up.
Chelsea for many seasons now have not used wide players as traditional wingers. Instead Hudson-Odoi and especially Willian prefer to turn inside when in possession.
Reece James has shown what a superb crosser of the ball he is, but his usual line of attack is also to run at an angle infield as he progresses forward. Along with another set of poor corner kicks, Chelsea proved little threat in the air to Newcastle’s 3 centre backs.
The other route is to try to upset the 2 lines of defenders and midfielders. This includes forming small triangles with players seeking specs between the lines, while runners move back and forward including running in behind the defensive wall.
There was almost no evidence of this going on and so the likes of Jorginho had minimal options ahead of him to threat a pass forward.
Ross Barkley was introduced in the hope of injecting some much needed pace as The Blues tried to break through, but all came to no avail.
The home defence all played their roles very well but in truth were given far too easy a ride by a lacklustre Chelsea.
The only crumb of comfort for all the Chelsea supporters afterwards was to find out that at least one home fan was also bent over double in tears of anguish thanks to a somersaulting corner flag as the home players celebrated their unlikely winning goal.
The other quirk with this surprise result will be the fallout from the majority of both sets of fans. While the Chelsea supporters will still back Frank Lampard and what the club are doing, they will only see this loss as one of those things and will remain very pleased with how the season has progressed overall. After all, the club are still clear in 4th place, in the knockout stages of the Champions League and are expected to be in the 5th round of the FA Cup.
Most Geordies are still not willing to start backing Steve Bruce, despite a victory over a top 4 side has elevated them up to 12th and 7 points clear of the relegation zone.
A 0-0 score line was greeted by a huge chorus of boos aimed at the referee, as opposed to any support to their manager or players who were holding on in a match they expected to lose heavily.
Fortunately Bruce seems to be fully aware that they are unlikely to cheer his name no matter how good a job he is doing there, but most of their support will still want to concentrate on their worry about being relegated. Shame they can not rejoice in the better-than-expected season they are having.
Many Chelsea fans could do well to learn from them. Yes, the performance and result were hard to endure, but all of us would have taken where we are now in the summer. And Frank, Jody and all the youth products will only continue to learn and progress more.
And, after all, who’s to say Chelsea won’t go out and finish yet another league double over Arsenal next time out.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue